Boris Johnson meetings: how many times PM met Rupert Murdoch and other newspaper bosses during the pandemic

Boris Johnson had meetings with Rupert Murdoch, Lebedev Holdings and many more media bosses throughout the pandemic

More than one in five of the Prime Minister’s meetings recorded by the Cabinet Office during 2020 and 2021 were with newspaper owners, editors or senior journalists, mostly from favourable publications.

Boris Johnson had as many meetings with Rupert Murdoch as with the Mayor of London during the pandemic, NationalWorld can reveal.

How many meetings did Boris Johnson have with journalists and media organisations?

In 2020 and 2021, Mr Johnson had more official meetings with Mr Murdoch than with the entirety of the Scottish press, according to Cabinet Office records.

The PM had as many meetings with the editor of the influential Conservative blog ConservativeHome as he did with the heads of all the Scottish newspapers, who he sat down with in a group meeting on just one occasion over the two years.

Of 287 official meetings involving Mr Johnson logged by the Cabinet Office over 2020 and 2021, more than one in five were with newspaper editors, senior journalists and/or proprietors.

Mr Johnson had more meetings with representatives of the Telegraph than any other non-government organisation during the pandemic.

While there is clearly a public interest in senior government figures communicating directly with the media, Cabinet Office records suggest Mr Johnson has spent much more time meeting with favourable media companies.

Dominic Cummings, a former adviser to the Prime Minister, has alleged that Number 10 discussed “direct bungs” with newspaper bosses at the start of the pandemic, supposedly in exchange for favourable coverage.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Cummings said “of course the newspapers negotiated direct bungs to themselves with [Boris Johnson], no officials on calls, then he told officials to send the £ – dressed up as ‘covid relief’ etc”.

A special subsidy arrangement was put in place early in the pandemic, which provided funding to a wide range of media outlets, partly in exchange for advertising.

This was budgeted at £35m, though there has been no confirmation as yet as to how much has been spent through the policy in total.

Responding to Byline Times in May, Number 10 did not deny Boris Johnson held private meetings with newspaper editors, but insisted no outlet received "preferred treatment".

Mr Johnson met with Mr Murdoch, CEO of News UK Rebekah Brooks, the owners of the Telegraph and Daily Mail, and with an unnamed representative of Lebedev Holdings.

In February, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries removed all legal barriers on Mr Murdoch interfering in the editorial independence of The Times and the Sunday Times, ending restrictions which had been in place since the Australian tycoon’s takeover in 1981.

Number 10 declined to comment on who the representative of Lebedev Holdings was, though Mr Johnson has a longstanding personal relationship with Evgeny Lebedev, and has been accused of overlooking security briefings about the owner of the Evening Standard relating to his links to Vladimir Putin.

The purpose of each meeting is recorded only as “general discussion” and Number 10 has said it does not comment further on the matters discussed at private meetings.

Mr Johnson’s relationship with the press has been called into question again over an article which was pulled from later editions of The Times this weekend.

The article, which appeared in earlier editions of the paper, alleged that while serving as Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson had tried to have his current partner Carrie Symonds hired as chief of staff on a £100,000 per year taxpayer-funded salary.

Here are all the media groups that Mr Johnson met with representatives of throughout 2020 and 2021:

  • Telegraph: 12
  • DMG: 11
  • Sun: 8
  • Times: 7
  • BBC: 7
  • Express: 3
  • Rupert Murdoch: 2
  • Rebekah Brooks: 2
  • Spectator: 2
  • Financial Times: 2
  • Lebedev Holdings: 1
  • Reach Group: 1
  • Charles Moore (Telegraph, Mail & Spectator): 1
  • Hugo Dixon (climate journalist): 1
  • All Scottish Papers (joint meeting): 1
  • ConservativeHome: 1
  • Guardian: 1

Boris Johnson met with Tony Blair

The Prime Minister also had a “private meeting” with Tony Blair in November last year, though neither side will comment on what was discussed in detail.

Mr Johnson met with the former prime minister on 9 November 2021, while Cop26 was ongoing.

The release states the purpose of the meeting was a “general discussion including foreign policy and climate change”.

Number 10 said it would not comment further on what was discussed at the meeting.

The Tony Blair Institute declined to respond to a request for comment.