Opinion: We just don't know who to believe...

Trust makes the news-handling business work.

Despite the routine groans about the wonderful (and mythical) days before rolling 24/7 news, the Whitehall-Westminster media machine grinds on - sustained by a culture of carefully limited disrespect between government, parliament and the media.

There is a necessary amount of trust between political master and press officer, and between press officer and journalist: self-policing by people who have reasonable mutual understandings, who keep their eyes wide open - and who understand the fragility of credibility. 

The value of this culture first hit me on a visit to Russia with then energy secretary Cecil Parkinson.  This was the late-1980s, when Moscow's journalists were discovering new freedoms. Pre-Gorbachev, Moscow's media were perfectly summed up in a joke about the two Communist Party newspapers: Izvestia (which means ‘the news') and Pravda (‘the truth'). Muscovites would declare that there was no news in the truth, and no truth in the news.

Post-Gorbachev, Moscow journalists - many of whom were new to the job - simply refused to believe their government on any issue.  This rampant cynicism left ordinary Russians without any clues with which to detect the truth. 

We don't face that problem, but we may be facing a collapse of the remaining trust between officials and ministers. Following highly damaging publications by Sir Christopher Meyer (formerly Her Britannic Majesty's Distinctly Sidelined Ambassador in Washington) and David Blunkett, we now hear that Alastair Campbell is poised to unleash his own scathing verdict on Whitehall.

He was a temporary civil servant - but will any minister call him to task? I doubt it.  

Mike Granatt is a partner at Luther Pendragon and former director-general of the Government Information and Communication Service

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