Downing Street has been forced to distance itself from a government minister who publicly attacked a HuffPost UK journalist for asking a question.
White received abuse and had to make her Twitter profile private, after Badenoch shared screenshots of two emails the journalist sent to a government press office. The emails requested answers to why the minister did not participate in a cross-party video promoting the Covid vaccine.
Critics have said the move amounts to a threat to press freedom.
Following sustained questioning over two days of briefings, Boris Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton attempted to distance the prime minister from Badenoch’s actions.
Stratton praised White’s work and told reporters: “Kemi Badenoch felt the correspondence was something she should put in public domain.
“But that is a matter for Kemi Badenoch, it’s Kemi Badenoch’s decision.”
Stratton added: “That would not be how we in No.10 would deal with these things, and that we encourage all of you to ask us challenging, difficult questions as you are doing now.”
Asked if Badenoch should delete the tweet to draw a line under the issue, Stratton said: “I think this issue is best moved on from.
“I’m not in the business of telling ministers to delete tweets.”
Put to her that the easiest way to move on would be to apologise, Stratton said: “I think that we have answered the questions on this that we are going to answer.”
The Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists Platform has identified the incident as a potential threat to media freedom and the safety of journalists as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The National Union of Journalists described Badenoch’s behaviour as “weird” and an “abuse of her privilege” because she embarked on “unacceptable and uncalled for pillorying of a journalist simply for doing her job”.
And the Mapping Media Freedom website, run by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, has recorded the attack as a “violation of media freedom”.
HuffPost UK editor-in-chief Jess Brammar tweeted in response to Badenoch on Friday: “You will note that, contrary to your claim we were spreading disinformation, we have not published this story without your response.
“I totally refute the claim it is ‘creepy and bizarre’ to ask questions of a government minister, and Nadine was doing her job in asking them.”
She later added: “One of my reporters has had to make her Twitter profile private today because a *government minister* tweeted out screenshots of a completely standard request for comment on a story, and accused her of spreading disinformation. Absolutely extraordinary.
“Young, female, black journalists receive some of the worst abuse on Twitter, and to behave in this way is extremely disappointing – even before you consider that the person involved is the minister for equalities.
“We stand by Nadine for doing her job correctly, as she always does.”