Journalists slam PM's briefings

Senior political journalists have attacked the Prime Minister's morning lobby briefings, with one sniping: 'You might as well stare at a wall for half an hour.'

Nick Robinson
Nick Robinson

BBC political editor Nick Robinson, ITV political editor Tom Bradby and Sky News
pol­itical editor Adam Boulton all appeared bef­ore the House of Lords communications committee last week.

RELATED ARTICLE: 'Puny and insignificant' press officers in Government

The committee is pressing ahead with an inquiry into government comms following reforms recommended in the Phillis Review in 2004.

Boulton said he saw little value in the lobby briefings, which are presided over by Downing Street comms director Mike Ellam and are atten­ded by most political journalists.

‘It is very basic operational information that can be gat­hered by almost anyone and extremely limited expre­ssions of the PM's position,' said Boulton.

‘We are probably told less at lobby briefings than at any time previously.'
Robinson often opted out of briefings. ‘I am not sure I can count on my fingers the number of times I have been in the past six months,' he said.

He added that the flow of information was often better when Alastair Campbell was Downing Street comms director.

‘He was seen as someone who genuinely understood the Prime Minister's mind and often communicated it to journalists. We have somehow managed to lose that.'

Bradby was highly critical: ‘I think Mike Ellam is a great public servant... but the lobby, for reasons we perhaps understand, has become very limi­ted in its value.'

He later added: ‘Go to a lobby briefing and you might as well stare at a wall for half an hour.'
The 2004 Phillis Review put forward recommendations for improving government comms with the aim of making Whitehall ‘open, impartial, efficient and relevant to the public'.

It followed a souring of relations between the media and government during Campbell's later years at Downing Street.

The political editors also touched on the role of Brown's special adviser on press Damian McBride.

Boulton said: ‘There is clearly a role for a Damian McBride - for a figure in Dow­ning Street close to the PM who deals with party political matters.'

Timeline
2008 House of Lords opens inquiry into whether Phillis Review has been successful. It continues in October.

2005 Government scraps the Government Information and Comms Service, replacing it with the Government Comms Network.

2004 Howell James appointed to the new role of permanent secretary for government comms, as the review recommended.

2004 Phillis Review is published. It says changes in the conduct, process and style of government comms are needed.

2003 Alastair Campbell resigns as Downing Street comms director and Phillis Review is commissioned, chaired by Guardian Media Group CEO Sir Robert Phillis.

By the Numbers
2 Number of daily briefings given by Downing Street

£11m Amount spent on PR by the COI in 2007-08

73 Number of special advisers across Whitehall

£140k Maximum salary paid to Brown's special advisers

£5.9m Total bill for special advisers to Government

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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