Opinion: Govt must fight new 'spin' smear

I used to be cynical about Alastair Campbell's assertion that the biggest spinners of all were the press, but the reports of the latest figures for Government communication have proven me wrong.

Suddenly every government webmaster, editor, planner, internal comms specialist and (of course) press officer, is a spin doctor. Suddenly it's horrifying that central government - which must explain and account for hundreds of services and programmes - has a bigger comms spend than, say, Tesco.

Given the staggering number of reporters who now expect to be spoon-fed every last background detail, these complaints are the biggest contrivance of breast-beating since the remake of King Kong. But this is nothing new.Every year since the information service was set up 60 years ago, MPs and the press have accused the government of peddling publicly funded propaganda. So it is worth asking if the shiny new Government Communication Network has prepared itself for this routine onslaught.

There are four main defences. First is the level of unavoidable demand. Second is promotion of the rules against extravagance and political misuse. Third is the case for each promotional activity or campaign. And fourth is the demonstration of value for money.

Demand is easy. The outpouring of new programmes and the modern communication environment are self-evident.

Published rules are key. For years they were prominently compiled in booklets and handbooks. So why has GCN now scattered them around its website, making them far less prominent and seemingly less important?

The case for campaigns can hardly be a state secret. Each time one is approved by ministers, the case should be published. And the same goes for evaluation. Publish or be damned. But choose evaluation measures carefully.

More than one permanent secretary used to tell me that his measure for a press office was the minister's satisfaction. I hope that naïveté has passed - it is the perfect recipe for politicisation.

Mike Granatt is a partner at Luther Pendragon and a former director-general of the Government Information and Communication Service

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