Gilligan slams Campbell for PR strategy 'disaster'

LONDON – The Government's spin machine, and Tony Blair's former press secretary Alastair Campbell's role in it, came in for stern criticism from BBC Radio 4 Today's former defence and diplomatic correspondent Andrew Gilligan at Tuesday's PR and the Media conference.

Gilligan resigned from the BBC last January after the Hutton Inquiry into the Government's preparation of its dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction criticised his reporting. He said that while tactically Campbell's success in 'taming the press' post-Hutton had been a triumph, strategically it was 'a disaster'.

'If the aim was to disprove the story and restore trust, it could not have been more counter-productive,' he said.

Gilligan, now a columnist for London's Evening Standard and The Spectator, said of the press: 'Some journalists are driven by polemical causes and that's bad. But the slanted coverage of me made no difference to how I was perceived. Opinion polls overwhelmingly believed me and disbelieved the Government. '

The Government's 'greatest failing' was to overestimate the media's influence and underestimate the public's sophistication, he added: 'The reason for distrust in the Government is not to do with the media - it is because it doesn't tell the truth.'

He admitted he should not have said the Government 'probably knew' its claims about Iraq's capability were untrue and that he should not have attributed the claim to weapons inspector David Kelly, but what Kelly told him had largely turned out to be true.

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