Public Sector: TV briefings 'a ratings killer'

Journalist criticises plans for White House-style televised format.

A top lobby journalist has suggested plans to televise lobby briefings could produce the 'worst ratings possible'.

Plans announced last week by the Prime Minister's official spokesman Simon Lewis prompted speculation about Lord Mandelson becoming Minister for Information in a role that could see him holding weekly televised White House-style briefings in Westminster. A review is being overseen by Lewis and is intended to be implemented by January 2010.

But The Guardian political editor Patrick Wintour dismissed the plan: 'It would produce the worst ratings possible in TV. The lobby briefing is a very functional exchange of information. I don't think it would benefit anyone to televise it - it certainly doesn't benefit the viewer.'

However, Wintour supported the idea of including other speakers at the lobby briefing, which he dubbed 'moribund'. 'There is a range of cabinet ministers who could do the job on a week-by-week basis. I would prefer a range of ministers rather than just one.'

It was recently revealed that Lewis would be taking more of a backseat role. Lewis and lobby chair Jean Eaglesham of the FT have formed a working group made up of six journalists from the lobby and five members from Number 10 and Government Communication in the Cabinet Office. They include permanent secretary for government communications Matt Tee, Sky News chief political correspondent John Craig and Downing Street head of news Vickie Sheriff.


This is a logical development that started when Alastair Campbell persuaded Tony Blair to allow him to put lobby briefings on the record. This was not altruistic openness. Campbell was in a briefing war with Charlie Whelan at The Treasury, who was peddling Gordon Brown's anti-Euro line to the lobby in direct contradiction of Blair. Campbell knew Whelan could never go head to head on the record, so this was the perfect way to trump him.

Of course Mandelson would gain far more prominence, but the balance of risk is obvious. Brown's dour righteousness must be hugely disheartening to the Labour faithful compared with Mandelson's morale-raising barbs.

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