Outrage over the unusual level of control imposed on media coverage of the Home Secretary’s visit to Rwanda has grown during Suella Braverman’s first hour in the country this weekend.

Prominent names including news anchors, academics and opposition MPs expressed surprise at what they considered biased reporting of the trip from right-wing news organizations invited to join the trip. The Guardian, BBC, Mirror, Independent and i Newspaper were banned.

Braverman and his Home Office team went out on Friday to promote the government’s plan to deport refugees to the African country in a controversial deal signed by his predecessor, Priti Patel, last April. As the plan faces legal challenges, no one has been relocated to the country so far.

Braverman appeared in a series of photo-ops, laughing with a group of children and posing in front of a housing block set to host asylum seekers. In comments that worried human rights campaigners, he described the homes as “really beautiful, high quality, welcoming”.

“I like your interior designer,” he added. “I need some advice myself.”

The Telegraph, whose reporters were among a handful of right-wing outlets selected by the Home Office to join the trip, wrote happily about the accommodation. “The homes offer families off-street car parking, fibre-optic broadband, front and back gardens, an eco-design that combats humidity and gases rising from the ground and decor that wouldn’t look out of place in a British town house.”

John Sopel, the BBC’s former North American editor, told the Observer that the controversy over whether left-leaning or liberal news organizations were allowed to cover the trip immediately reminded him of the pressure on White House political reporters. The presidency of Donald Trump.

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“It sounds familiar, that was my first thought,” said Sopel, now co-host of The News Agents current affairs podcast. “There was a time when many newspaper headlines were not allowed in press briefings. But the difference in America was that the Correspondents’ Association immediately pointed to the First Amendment to the Constitution and it was not allowed to happen.

A small group, or “pool,” of political reporters is traditionally set up for trips where security concerns are sometimes paramount, usually with the understanding that all information will be shared with a broad mix of national reporting teams.

Under Boris Johnson’s premiership there were other alleged attempts to screen journalists and filter questions at news briefings and press conferences.

BBC news anchor Clive Maire retweeted the Guardian’s critical account of the trip, while other British journalists expressed surprise that approved reporters were willing to go along with the trial process. “It’s not very collegiate,” one former magazine editor said Saturday.

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Michela Rong, a British journalist and author of the recent book Do Not Disturb in Rwanda: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad, said the timing of Braverman’s visit was “ironic”.

“Rwanda and the DRC are on the brink of an all-out war. The M23 guerrilla group, a Rwandan proxy, has driven 600,000-800,000 Congolese villagers from their homes and Braverman happily credits an African leader who is recognized as responsible for the destabilization of the African Great Lakes.

“Britain should discuss slapping sanctions on Rwanda – the only message Kagame will respond to – rather than planning to send migrants there.”

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, was among the political opposition who pointed out that time spent promoting Conservative policy in Rwanda was being spent from the public purse. He added: “Suela Braverman is still unclear on the number of people Rwanda will actually take into practice or pay the full cost to the British taxpayer.

“Already the Home Secretary has written a check for at least £140m to Rwanda, even though she admitted the scheme failed and the Home Office said it was a high risk of fraud. Instead of an expensive PR stunt she should be using that money to go after smuggling gangs to stop dangerous boat crossings.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said the trip was a “costly distraction from the unethical, unworkable Braverman Bill”. He added: “Suella Braverman is wasting taxpayers’ money to show off the Conservative Party’s latest vanity project in Rwanda. Liberal Democrats will oppose this appalling, anti-refugee law, which is nothing more than a charter for criminal smugglers.”


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