THE BIG QUESTION: Should Government PROs be accountable by name for their comments? The media can now attribute comments to Alastair Campbell by name rather than simply referring to him as the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, following a backl

MICHAEL BURRELL, Westminster Strategy

MICHAEL BURRELL, Westminster Strategy

’I certainly think it’s a step forward to put lobby briefings on the

record - even though Alastair Campbell now appears to be a little

ambivalent about his decision. Because he is the Prime Minister’s

spokesman, briefing the media twice a day, it makes obvious sense. The

question is should others follow his lead? To which I say, why not? It

would certainly encourage press officers to consider their words a lot

more carefully if their name was attached to their statements. On the

other hand there will always be a place for unattributable briefings,

it’s only human nature that they will tell journalists more if they

aren’t named.’

COLIN BROWN, Political correspondent for the Independent

’No they shouldn’t be named. All Government press officers are civil

servants, they are simply acting as spokesmen on technical issues for

the various departments. They do not interpret in the same way that a

policy adviser does. Alastair Campbell is not being named because he

volunteered, but because of a rebellion in the lobby after he brought in

a documentary film maker to record a session. It’s a huge disadvantage

to the Government because Campbell is quoted twice a week, while the

Prime Minister is only quoted once a week, but because he has a

political role it is right that he should be named. It helps people

understand stories better.’

JEREMY BROWNE, Liberal Democrats

’Much of the formalised culture of secrecy in Westminster journalism

exists for its own sake. Once formal briefings are out in the open it

will become unimaginable to return to the old system. But off-the-record

briefings suit both journalists and spin-doctors too well for them to

end.The reality is that there are some things that have to remain

unattributable, and it is a mistake to believe that off-the-record

discussions always act as a limit on the release of information. Putting

the formal briefings on-the-record will make a small contribution to

transparency, but despite being driven underground, off-the-record

discussions will continue.’


’The job of press officers is to support ministers, not to supplant

them. The proper place for a Government press officer is on the edge of

the action and out of focus. But I think it depends on what level you

are talking about. I am all in favour of Alastair Campbell being

on-the-record. Senior people are known and it can be useful to use your

name to signal the seriousness of Government intent on some issue,

rather than leaving the impression that a report is a vague rumour. When

I worked for Bernard Ingham, I was happy to give my name so journalists

knew who they were talking to and to negotiate the use of my name as

long as it would somehow help get across whatever piece of government

business I was working on. It would certainly make me more careful about

what I said. On the other hand, juniors are purely about function. What

does it add to know that the press officer you’ve just spoken to was

called Kevin?’

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