DoH sparks media ‘fury’ over selective briefing

The Department of Health’s PR team has stoked up ‘fury’ among the tabloids and middle-market press by excluding them from a briefing on the flu-vaccine shortage.

The DoH subsequently issued an apology for leaving mass-market papers out of Monday's briefing on what has become a controversial public health concern.

In an email obtained by PRWeek that was sent to excluded parties, DoH head of press Jon Hibbs said: 'I take full responsibility for failing to handle this matter in accordance with the principles of transparency that normally govern our comms on serious public health issues.'

He added that the department had hoped to avoid 'unnecessary scaremongering' and had the right to decide 'who should be briefed and when'.

Daily Express health editor Victoria Fletcher told PRWeek: 'This has caused fury. The behaviour [of the DoH press team] is extraordinary and worrying: why should our readers be kept out of the loop on major public health issues?'

Selected briefings only normally happen on marginal issues, Fletcher said.

However, Hibbs disagreed. 'The papers don't complain when they get selected briefings that give them exclusives,' he said.

It is believed the DoH invited the BBC, ITV, The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph to Monday's briefing, excluding the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, Daily Mirror and The Press Association.
The DoH revealed to those at Monday's meeting that it was warning GPs to only vaccinate people most at risk from flu.

The excluded media were apparently alerted to the story only when the British Medical Association emailed them all a response to the DoH briefing as they went to press for their Tuesday editions.
Hibbs admitted to PRWeek: 'The whole exercise has backfired.'
But he added: 'You struggle to get journalists to understand the complexities of some subjects. Some papers have their own agenda and will always look for the conspiracy theory.'

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