During today's (12/10) press conference with Brexit negotiators Barnier and Davis, only Anglo-Saxon journalists were allowed to ask questions. API president Tom Weingärtner has protested against this practice in a letter to chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas, who moderated the press conference:
The press corps has been surprised that out of five questions you admitted at today's press conference with Mr. Davis and Mr. Barnier, four were asked by British colleagues and one by an Irish journalist. It is against the common practice that would give one question out of two to the press of either side of a negotiation. That would have been possible since there were many other colleagues who wanted to ask questions.
API draws your attention to the fact that the press corps is composed not only of Anglo Saxon journalists but of colleagues from many nationalities, mainly from other EU member states. Their citizens are at least as concerned as the British about the Brexit negotiations.
API would like to know whether you had any special reason to choose only Anglo Saxon colleagues? Or is it again one of the political choices of the 'political commission' of Mr. Juncker to block questions about Brexit from the continent?
In any case, we would like to underline that we consider this practice as an infringement of the principle of non-discrimination and expect a more balanced approach. In this context I refer also to our agreement § 1b: "Accredited journalists receive equal treatment, whatever their nationality or publication."
British colleagues have the same rights as any other accredited journalist – but not more. Therefore we expect that in a press conference with journalists from 28 member countries and colleagues from third countries, the right to ask questions is fairly distributed among these groups. If you give this right only to Anglo Saxon colleagues, the legitimate interests of the others are deliberately neglected by the Commission.
Last night we received the following reply from Margaritis Schinas:
Although there will never be enough time for all questions to be answered in such high-profile press events, I fully understand your points and assume personally the responsibility for today's shortcomings.
Please note the following explanations from my side:
My intention was to continue taking more questions, but the first 5 colleagues used their slot to ask multiple questions consuming the available time.
Given that the subject in question is market-sensitive, I wished to privilege AV coverage for instant reporting, hence BBC and Sky News. It is worth noting that no other AV colleague asked for the floor during the 50' presser.
The 20' delay caused by the incident before the presser consumed vital part of our scheduled time and restricted unduly the number of questions.
Let me once again reiterate our unwavering commitment to our agreement with API. Under my authority, no discrimination will ever be admitted amongst the Brussels press corps. The press-room belongs to all accredited journalists, not to any negotiating parts, officials, diplomats, pranksters, or ...superwomen.
Notwithstanding the above, I wish to apologise for today's problems and assume the obligation to do better next time.