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Tories impose ‘tax on democracy’ with fee to cover party conference

Conservatives’ £125 charge to attend 2022 conference comes after series of assaults on press freedom by government

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Ramzy Alwakeel
9 July 2022, 11.15pm

Nadhim Zadhawi at the Tories' 2021 conference

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Mark Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo

The Tories have been accused of charging a “tax on democracy” after announcing plans to make journalists pay to get into their party conference.

Conference season is a cornerstone of the party political calendar, at which MPs and lobbyists debate key policy issues, and cabinet members give speeches that set the government’s agenda for the coming year.

Yet for the first time the Conservatives plan to make news organisations and freelance journalists cough up £125 for media accreditation. Labour is asking for a voluntary ‘carbon offsetting’ fee of £5, while the Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru have not introduced any charges.

openDemocracy is among 14 news organisations and industry representatives urging the Conservatives to think again.

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Our joint statement – organised by the News Media Association, Foreign Press Association, News Media Coalition and Society of Editors – says levying the fees “flies in the face of their public commitments to press freedom”.

It adds: “We therefore call upon party conference organisers to commit to enabling a free press to inform society by withdrawing any charges on journalists to attend conferences.

“Any such attendance fees are a tax on democracy.”

The move comes amid an unprecedented crackdown on British press freedom by the government. Priti Patel’s proposed National Security Bill could criminalise public interest journalism if an organisation has ever received funding from a foreign state, while a parliamentary report has warned that the new Online Safety Bill could see news reports taken down by tech giants’ algorithms.

Last year the Council of Europe warned that the UK’s strict defamation laws presented “a serious impediment to the watchdog function of the media”, saying the country had Europe’s worst record for wealthy litigants launching vexatious ‘SLAPP’ (strategic litigation against public participation) cases against journalists.

The British government frequently criticises other countries over crackdowns on press freedom and freedom of speech.

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