After endless griping from the media about the triumph of spin over
substance under Tony Blair's administration, one might have thought that
steps to curb the leaking of policy to the media ahead of Parliament
would be given more news space. To see it downpage in the nationals will
confirm government PROs' worst fears - when the media grumble about PR's
dominance, they don't really want anything to be done about it, they
have simply found an easy target and relish shooting at it.
The announcement from the Government this week that something is to be
done about it - all policy announcements are to be made to Parliament
before the media under a stiffened code of conduct - is nevertheless to
The move will, as the Select Committee on Public Administration said,
'tackle one of the main sources of public cynicism about politicians -
the accusation of media manipulation, leak and spin levelled at recent
governments of both parties'.
Any system that seeks to clarify the role of media advisers is of use to
legitimate practitioners of government PR. Well-meaning government PROs
have nothing to fear from the new regime.
It is naive to expect that this clarification - given, happily, to
Parliament before journalists - will alter the landscape overnight.
Nothing in the code will stop a ministerial special adviser in the know
about a policy initiative from leaking details to a favoured hack over a
But it will firm up the sanctions against such behaviour and hopefully
lead to a less spivish atmosphere of intrigue around Westminster.