EDITORIAL: Lobby changes do not go far enough

Changes to the lobby announced last week have divided such experts as Sir Bernard Ingham and Charlie Whelan. Opening the 11am briefing to non-lobby reporters but retaining the closed shop of the afternoon session is in the very worst tradition of public administration reform. It's as though the Government understands the problem but is willfully obstructing the solution for reasons of cosy self-interest. The essence of good PR is openness and transparency. Downing Street nods at this but stops short of what is necessary to reinforce it.

As PR consultants rightly tell their clients, there should be no such thing as selective off-the-record briefing. If there was no lexicon of 'lobby terms,' there would be fewer of the imaginary or made-up quotes government PROs complain of among the supposed cream of the national press.

On-the-record televised briefings by departmental spokespeople would give sector experts a chance to engage in public debate, in a way hitherto reserved for senior advisers in Downing Street.

The US system provides a model. Its televised briefings give credibility to all parties: what journalists write will be believed more, which serves the needs of government PROs with messages to communicate. Since it also clears up the issue of who is speaking and with what authority, it means consumers are able better to understand the process that is being reported on or spun. That has to be in the public interest.

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