Boris Johnson accused of giving bungs to newspapers in exchange for content promoting government

Dominic Cummings said Boris Johnson personally negotiated "direct bungs" to newspapers, in the form of Covid relief payments.

Boris Johnson

The government has been accused of giving bungs to billionaire-owned newspaper outlets during the pandemic, in exchange for ‘sponsored content’ which promoted its actions.

Byline Times has made further revelations about the claims after the prime minister’s former chief aide, Dominic Cummings said Boris Johnson personally negotiated “direct bungs” to newspapers, in the form of Covid relief payments.

Cummings made the claim on Twitter when responding to barrister Adam Wagner who asked if he had come across any other examples of private lobbying leading to lockdown rule changes.

Cummings replied: “Also of course the newspapers negotiated direct bungs to themselves with him, no officials on calls, then he told officials to send the £ — dressed up as ‘covid relief’ etc”.

Byline Times reports that the special subsidy arrangement for the mainstream press that saw wealthy news providers benefit such as the Mail group, the Murdoch group, the Telegraph group and the Mirror group, operated under a scheme known as ‘All In, All Together’. The paper said the scheme was conceived after intense lobbying from the News Media Association (NMA).

It states: “Content for these articles was seemingly spoon-fed to the papers by the Government, with the same interviews and the same quotes appearing across several titles, though some of the linking text varied. The stories often involved praise for measures taken by the Government and some of it was barely relevant to COVID.”

It’s estimated that if the spending on the scheme has continued at its initial rate for 24 months, then it would take the total to well over £200 million. Meanwhile smaller, independent news publishers which had already been struggling even before the pandemic, received almost nothing.

Byline Times has previously revealed that some 25% of the Prime Minister’s recorded meetings with external organisations from July to September last year were held with right-wing publications.

A government spokesperson told the paper that no outlet received preferential treatment and all those who had been selected had been done so via the government’s external media planning and buying agency.

The spokesperson said: “We recognise the valued role of national, local and regional newspapers, and actively supported the whole industry during the COVID pandemic.

“This included investing more in advertising our public information campaign through national and local media and radio, which saw vital public health messaging advertised across approximately 600 titles including UK nationals, regional dailies, weeklies, and independent media.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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