Robert Peston put on the spot during heated clash with JHB over not asking tough questions

Julia Hartley-Brewer grills Peston over daily Covid briefings

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ITV’s Robert Peston appeared on TalkRADIO plugging his latest fiction book “The Whistleblower” but was caught unawares when host Julia Hartley-Brewer began quizzing the journalist about his Downing Street Covid press conference appearances last year. Mr Peston acknowledged he drew a lot of criticism when he questioned ministers about the pandemic with some critics ridiculing him. But Ms Hartley-Brewer accused Mr Peston of not asking a single question on the evidence for lockdown as the two journalists clashed.

Mr Peston was among many other high-profile journalists who were able to ask Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other ministers questions during their Downing Street coronavirus press conferences.

According to a poll of 1,652 Britons for Sky News conducted by YouGov in April 2020, TV journalists were distrusted by 64 percent of viewers with only 24 percent saying they trust them.

And during a radio interview, Ms Hartley-Brewer took the chance to grill Mr Peston for his part. 

The radio host told Mr Peston she was “so angry” at his performance and said he did not ask any questions related to evidence for the lockdowns. 

Mr Peston replied: “Okay, I just don’t… I have to go back and actually look at every single question…

“I’m not 100 percent sure, you know, if you say genuinely I didn’t ever ask for sort of empirical evidence then I’m slightly surprised.

“Look, there is absolutely no question and you and I may well end up disagreeing about the things that the Government got wrong, but the fact is there is no question that the Government got quite a lot wrong during this.”

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Ms Hartley-Brewer said the two probably believed different things went wrong. 

Mr Peston continued: “It was quite frustrating to try and do one’s normal job during all of this.

“Obviously I’m delighted to talk more about this at another time if it suits, but one relevant point is at the start of the crisis if I asked any kind of robust question, any type of robust question at a minister at those press conferences.

“They would then be a torrent of abuse saying this is gotcha journalism, we’ve got this great prime minister trying to do his best – why don’t you just leave him alone?”

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Ms Hartley-Brewer interjected and bluntly asked “so what” before explaining abuse from the public was part of their job. 

Mr Peston said he tried his best in the circumstance and said he worked harder during the pandemic than any other time. 

He added his biggest regret in the pandemic was not doing enough on February 12 in 2020 where he first heard from a government minister about the extent of COVID-19. 

The journalist explained he did not follow it up or do much reporting on it because he naively believed the Government had it under control and did not want to be accused of being “alarmist”.

It appeared at the time there was frustration with the questions being asked by journalists which paved the way for the public to ask their own questions to ministers. 

In April, an independent polling body was put in charge of fielding questions from the public which would then be recorded and shown to ministers who could not pick nor know what questions would be asked.

Downing Street finished the construction of their new press conference room in early 2021 in the hope the Government could use the room for “White House style” press conferences. 

However, the plans were scrapped despite £2.6million being spent on the room which will now be used for general press conferences and briefings rather than for any regular events.

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