OPINION: Leader - Televised briefings are nothing to fear

The issue of whether to televise government media briefings returned to the fore this week amid reports that Downing Street is mulling proposals to do just that.

Unfortunately, this complex matter is tangled up with the rival factions of Westminster's internecine battles to such a great extent that an obviously sensible policy turning could very easily end up being missed.

There are strong arguments to be made on both sides of the debate - the forces of openness and transparency stand on one side; ranged against them are those who prize the right to speak freely if unattributably to a group of well-informed, but sometimes out of touch reporters.

The key question, of course, should not be 'what traditions are in place that may be ridden roughshod over', or 'who stands to lose or gain most from such a change'. It should be - and this goes to the heart of the reform process through which Guardian Media Group chairman Bob Phillis is leading the Government Information and Communication Service - what is that system for?

If one were to spell out that mission, it would include: informing the public about plans the Government has; raising awareness of specific changes to policy that will affect people's lives; and keeping them up to date on work outside the UK that is being conducted in their name. It would emphatically not include: selling unpopular policies to a reluctant public; conducting party PR business on government time; or stitching-up out-of-favour colleagues.

So government PROs, from Number 10 communications head David Hill downwards, should only fear the opening up to wider scrutiny of the mechanics of media briefing if they were being used to spin and obfuscate.

Indeed - the truculent (sometimes brutal) way journalists have of behaving would as likely damage their own reputations as those of the PR facing the cameras.

In short, there is no conceivable reason not to televise the briefings, and, as far as openness and transparency are concerned, every reason to bring the secretive and clubby lobby system truly up to date.

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