Sky News and anti-social media

The channel's decision to ban retweets by its journalists is a great leap backwards.

Sky News's bizarre new social media policy hasn't been well received by anyone, not least its own journalists. The channel has banned its staff from retweeting information from other journalists and Twitter users and from tweeting on stories other than their own.

An email to staff said:

So, to reiterate, don't tweet when it is not a story to which you have been assigned or a beat which you work.

Where a story has been Tweeted by a Sky News journalist who is assigned to the story it is fine, desirable in fact, that it is retweeted by other Sky News staff.

Do not retweet information posted by other journalists or people on Twitter. Such information could be wrong and has not been through the Sky News editorial process.

The stated reason for the policy is "to ensure that our journalism is joined up across platforms, there is sufficient editorial control of stories reported by Sky News journalists and that the news desks remain the central hub for information going out on all our stories." But its hard to see a blanket ban as anything but a retrograde step that runs counter to the entire ethos of social media. A no-retweet policy violates the golden rule of the web: link and be linked. Far better to trust your journalists and to quietly discipline them on those occasions that they do slip up.

Even one Rupert Murdoch, who has posted links to New York Times articles in the past, has distanced himself from the move.

Sky's decision also again raises the question of who owns a Twitter account: the journalist or the organisation? The channel's digital news editor Neal Mann, a prolific tweeter, already appears to have violated the ban by retweeting a Press Gazette story on the Nightjack case.

But to its loss, the channel seems unlikely to think again. Sky, an organisation with a deserved reputation for digital innovation, has taken a great leap backwards.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

0800 7318496