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On Wednesday, the UK Prime Minister put up a new job listing: A spokesperson to front a new daily televised press briefing, much like the White House press secretary. The briefings, which are expected to start in October, are a major shakeup to the traditional off-camera twice-daily gaggles London journalists are used to.

“You will represent the government and the Prime Minister to an audience of millions on a daily basis, across the main broadcast channels and social media, and have the chance to influence and shape public opinion,” the job posting states.

Johnson wants to keep that going.

“We do think that people want direct engagement and want stuff from us and so we’re going to have a go at that,” Johnson told LBC radio in early July. “I will pop up from time to time, I have no doubt.”

Briefing or performance?

But in Washington, where the daily briefings have been televised since 1995, those on both sides of the podium have a warning: Turning on the cameras will make Downing Street more like the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe, the famous Elizabethan theater just down the River Thames.

And for some, that’s a bad thing.

Mike McCurry, the Clinton White House Press Secretary who brought the briefings to television in 1995, is famously vocal about his regrets over letting networks air the daily briefings in real time, telling CNN Business they’ve turned into “a reality TV event.”

Now he thinks the briefing should be embargoed until its conclusion.

“This requires journalists to record the briefing, test the information against other sources, maybe extract comment from others, and then prepare reports that use what is truly newsworthy,” McCurry said.

That’s unlikely to happen in today’s livestreaming world. Joe Lockhart, who took over as White House press secretary after McCurry, told CNN Business he expects both sides in London will treat the exercise as theater.

“Downing Street is likely bringing in a TV presenter (for the spokesperson role) and I think reporters just by human nature, a lot of them will see this as a way to get on TV, getting attention,” Lockhart said. “It will not be a briefing per se but a performance.”

On the journalists’ side of the podium Caren Bohan, Washington editor of USA Today and a former White House Correspondents’ Association president, told CNN Business televising the Downing Street briefings will change the relationship between the press and the government. But she said it is “overdue.”

“Most public officials are likely to be more guarded on camera than they would be speaking to reporters without cameras. You are more likely to get ‘talking points’ and less candid responses,” Bohan said. “That said, the more access there is, the better it is for the press and the public.”

In London, the group of reporters who cover Downing Street are known as The Lobby and they participate in two briefings with the Prime Minister’s spokespeople every day. The briefings are off-camera, and the spokespeople are never named. Publishing an audio recording of the briefing is not allowed.

And while many journalists in London are open to the televised briefings, some are wary of their colleagues — some of whom are already “preening peacocks,” as one political correspondent for a British paper said -— being swept up in the theatrics and boosting their egos by trying to spar with government officials on national TV.

Former ITV anchor Alastair Stewart wrote in a column for The Spectator that this way at least, the public will be able to see and hear the questioner and respondent in full view.

“There is more merit in having a free and frank exchange between press and politicians, in the full glare of the TV lights, than in continuing with the semi-secretive pantomime of the lobby,” he wrote.

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Others worry that turning the cameras on will actually reduce transparency. Thus far there have been scarce details on the exact format of the briefings and who will be allowed to participate.

In a joint statement to the media watchdog Press Gazette, The Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar, chair of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and the Mail’s Jason Groves, chair of the Lobby said they don’t want to see the new briefings “used as an excuse to reduce transparency by, for example, reducing the number of daily briefings, limiting questions, those who can ask them, or our on-the-record access to ministers.”

The advice

Reporters should be ready for canned, made-for-TV soundbites from the government’s spokesperson, veteran Washington correspondents warned.

Ben Feller, a former chief White House correspondent for the Associated Press and now a partner at communications strategy firm Mercury, told CNN Business most reporters find the daily briefings with the press secretary useless for gathering new information.

But reporters should still “prepare appropriately, get to the point, don’t take punts for answers, follow up, and act as you normally would.”

As for the chosen spokesperson, they will likely become the second most recognizable person from the UK government, with the first being the Prime Minister.

According to several reports, Downing Street is specifically looking to bring in someone with broadcast journalism experience to fill the role. But Lockhart warned Downing Street not to “just hire a familiar face that can fake their way through it.”

The best person for the position, he said, marries “presentation, politics and policy together,” Lockhart said.

McCurry also advised that the spokesperson stay out of policy deliberations and be a “fly on the wall.”

“Taking an active role in decision-making induces some reluctance to those ‘on the other side’ to share information with you and you want always to get ‘the best pitch’,” he said.

Feller also warned that one of the first questions the spokesperson may face from the press is to define their purpose.

“Is their role to promote agenda of government and not answer anything else, or is their goal to do both -— promote agenda and be responsible and responsive to the press?” Feller said. “Whoever they hire should be ready to answer that question.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that audio recording of UK lobby briefings is not allowed.

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Mongolia’s most eligible eagle hunter

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(CNN) — “Look over there. See that man coming this way?” asks Timur. “He’s so good looking.”

Galloping towards us on a stout Mongolian steed is the nomad’s version of Brad Pitt returning home in “Legends of the Fall.” Bundled inside a pinto jacket above richly embroidered trousers, he certainly catches the eye. A fox fur hat warms his head, and perched calmly on his right forearm is a golden eagle that’s not merely a prop for a cheesy cologne advertisement.

“Look at his eyebrows and his cheekbones,” continues our Intrepid Travel guide. “And look at how big and strong he is. The girls go crazy over him.”

“It’s true,” says Timur’s wife, Bata, blushing slightly. “If I was to compare him with Timur just on looks, of course I would choose him.”

Upon closer inspection, the intruder’s weathered face betrays a life lived outdoors. But his jaw is certainly chiseled and his natural squint reminds me of a youthful Clint Eastwood as he gazes off into the distance.

Jenisbek Tserik, whose name means “steel warrior,” is a semi-nomadic Kazakh.

Mark Daffey

Arguably more impressive though is his stature, which I only begin to appreciate once he stands beside four other berkutchi, or eagle hunters, who have assembled in front of us for a scheduled photo shoot and interview session. He’s close to a head taller, with broad, square shoulders and muscular limbs that are further exaggerated by his bulky attire.

His name is Jenisbek Tserik, an appellation that means “steel warrior” — an apt description given his achievements. A master horseman, he’s also a serial winner of tug-of-war competitions pitting two combatants wrestling a goat carcass.

So adept is Jenisbek that he has been flown to Dubai to compete in exhibition events. For a semi-nomadic Kazakh living in Mongolia’s remote, westernmost province of Bayan-Ölgii, any trip abroad would be like visiting another planet. Glitzy Dubai would be a whole different universe.

Aged 26, Jenisbek tells us he’s not married, then jokes that he has five girlfriends, including one in Dubai and another in Kazakhstan, from where 90% of Bayan-Ölgii’s resident population originates. I’m unsure if he’s serious, but from what Timur and Bata have told me about him, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

As well as the tug-of-war, Jenisbek is a champion archer, and he’s won numerous awards for eagle hunting in Bayan-Ölgii, where the centuries-old pastime is more widespread than anywhere else on the planet.

A proud history

Aged 26, Jenisbek says he's not married -- but has five girlfriends.

Aged 26, Jenisbek says he’s not married — but has five girlfriends.

Tuul & Bruno Morandi/The Image Bank RF/Getty Images

Eagle hunting can be traced back to a forgotten kingdom in Central Asia, where direct descendants of Genghis Khan settled by the Aral Sea until encroaching Russian Empire forces compelled them to flee to the lawless region of the Altai Mountains in Mongolia.

Then, when the Soviet Union and China established borders either side of them early in the 20th century, the Kazakhs became cut off from their homeland and were unable to return.

They continued to live as semi-nomadic herders in Western Mongolia, where traditional pastimes such as hunting with golden eagles continued, passing from one generation to the next. Since such practices were suppressed in Kazakhstan during Soviet rule, Bayan-Ölgii became the sport’s nucleus.

“For a Mongol, it’s pride thing to train racehorses. For Kazakhs, their pride is in training eagles to hunt,” explains Bata.

You can see it in the way they walk and how they behave. The five berkutchi know they’re being watched and they play up to it, puffing their chests out and stiffening their backs whenever a camera lens points their way. Brows furrow and lips purse like they’ve been modeling all their lives.

It’s a far cry from how life must have been in this part of the world before tourism impinged following the first Golden Eagle Festival, which was staged outside the provincial capital of Ölgii in 1999. But even now, foreigners are hardly stampeding to get here. When I quiz our local facilitator about numbers visiting the region this season, he replies that there are “many.”

“How many?” I ask.

“About 800.”

From October to March, eagle hunters head off into the mountains in pairs -- one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

From October to March, eagle hunters head off into the mountains in pairs — one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

Mark Daffey

Numbers peak around the timing of the festival in early October, and during the smaller scale Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival, held here in Sagsai two weeks earlier. In each, as many as 100 berkutchi test their skills in events where eagles are expected to catch fox skins being dragged behind horses or in races to scoop up a coin off the ground on horseback.

One flirtatious contest involves a whip-cracking woman chasing after a man who doesn’t always try overly hard to escape. I could imagine Jenisbek receiving a disproportionate share of lashings these past few years.

But it’s only once the tourists have gone that the eagle hunting season begins. From October to March, hunters head off into the mountains in pairs — one to flush out their prey, the other to release the eagle from high along a ridgeline.

Prize catches includes foxes and hares, whose luxuriant coats make the warmest hats, just like those crowning Jenisbek and his companions.

Hunts can last for days at a time, and training requires patience as the eagles become accustomed to their handlers and develop the required skills.

Has it caused couples to divorce, I ask Timur, when husbands spend more time with their birds than they do with their wife? He shrugs his shoulders.

When every unmarried woman in the valley is lining up for you, like they are for Jenisbek, who needs a wife?

Getting there: Though Mongolia is currently closed to tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of tour companies are now accepting bookings for for the 2021 Golden Eagle Festival in Bayan-Ulgii, which takes place in early October.

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Pelosi urges voting to counter Trump on peaceful election transition

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election could be cured at the ballot box.

“That the president of the United States would place in doubt the idea of the peaceful transfer of power, well it’s not a surprise,” Pelosi said. But a clear result from voters, she said, would be the “antidote” to any doubts raised by Trump in his comments. “I have confidence in the American people,” she said.

Pelosi’s remarks came as congressional Republicans declined to directly confront Trump’s comments but emphatically rejected the notion that the country would see anything but a peaceful transition of power should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the election. Trump, though, has spent months criticizing the integrity of the election rooted in baseless claims about foreign meddling with mail-in ballots and rampant voter fraud in Democrat-led states.

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Rishi Sunak’s Economic Plan Does Nothing To Help Freelancers, New Starters and Some Women On Maternity Leave, MPs Say

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Rishi Sunak’s winter economic plan leaves up to three million people without any specific job support and risks significant unemployment, MPs and economic experts have claimed.

Freelancers, new starters and some women on maternity leave have not had ‘one penny piece’ from the government in six months, the SNP’s economic spokeswoman Alison Thewliss said to the Chancellor as she claimed the new support package still does nothing to help this group of people.

“There’s nothing here, nothing whatsoever, for those that have been excluded from existing support schemes,” she said.

“The freelancers, the ‘forgotten limited’, the PAYE, the new starters, the women on maternity, all of those who have not one penny piece from this government for six months. He cannot say he does not know this is a problem although he still refuses to meet with them.

“How dare he say these three million people should be left high and dry with nothing.”

The Chancellor responded that there had been a temporary increase in universal credit welfare and enhanced support for the most vulnerable. He also referenced a a hardship fund for those struggling to pay council tax bills and said research had shown their financial help so far had made the most difference to those on the lowest incomes.

The Liberal Democrats also said they had deep concerns about the three million people who are tax payers but who have not had financial support.

Their treasury spokesperson, Christine Jardine MP, asked: “What about the three million who have no support for six months and will still be excluded from financial help.

“Where are the job creation plans to tackle unemployment?”

Among those who the group Excluded UK say have been missing out on support are the newly self-employed, those earning less than 50 percent income from self-employment, the self-employed with £50k plus in trading profits, PAYE freelancers and anyone made redundant before March 19. The ‘forgotten limited’ are small limited company directors who have not been eligible for self-employment income support.

Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Tory MP Mel Stride, said many self-employed people fell through the gaps of the support provided previously and he asked Sunak if he would look at specifically helping that group of people in the new measures. Sunak suggested that the government’s income tax self-assessment deferral scheme could help. 

Jacqueline Harthill, a self-employed owner of the Bristol-based The Happy Parents’ Club said the measures today have not helped people in her position.

She said: “The recently self-employed have once again come away from another major government statement empty-handed. It’s mind-boggling how millions of self-employed people have been left to fend for themselves.

“Once you’ve exhausted your savings, which many self-employed already have, the next step is defaulting on the mortgage, followed by homelessness and, ultimately, a much poorer society. The millions of people who have fallen through all the cracks in the support packages to date will be suffering financially, physically and emotionally for many, many years to come.”

Director for the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, tweeted that the changes announced by the Chancellor – ending the furlough scheme and shifting to a wage top up scheme – are significant.

He wrote: “This is a v big change from furlough. Less generous. Only open to those who are working a third of normal hours. Understandable given need to adapt as economy changes. Can’t pay all wages forever. But a lot on furlough now likely to lose their job.”

 

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