BIG QUESTION: Is there really such a thing as an off-the-record comment?

Earl Howe hit the headlines with his alleged off-the-record comment about Diana

Earl Howe hit the headlines with his alleged off-the-record comment

about Diana

Nicholas Wood

The Express

’Yes, there is, but it depends on who you’ve made it to. Normally lobby

correspondents are very careful to protect the identity of their

sources. Politicians and lobby correspondents don’t work on an

off-the-record basis. The normal basis is non-attributable. Thousands of

non-attributable comments are made to lobby correspondents every week,

many are used but only a few are ever identified. If someone says

something is off the record it is not usable.’

Colin Byrne

Shandwick Public Affairs

’It depends on the journalist and the relationship. I worked the

Westminster lobby for five years and only once had a confidence


The guy never got an inside track briefing again so he emerged the


Providing they are not abused, off-the-record briefings provide both

journalists and PR people with useful channels of communication. In the

end trust and care are my watchwords, learned over years working with

Peter Mandelson.’

Michael White

The Guardian

’There is, but it’s increasingly a rarity because people misbehave.

The thing is, you get a more correct assessment (of a situation) than if

you stick someone’s name behind it. There should be no confusion but the

political media world is much more leaky these days. So if people are

not very good at covering their tracks or protecting their sources, then

things come out.’

George Jones

Daily Telegraph

’In political journalism I don’t think there is. The trouble is that

nobody knows the difference between off-the-record and ’not for


You are never sure whether they mean you can’t use it and attribute it

or you can’t use it at all. Some politicians tell you things and say

it’s off-the-record, but they want it to get out and just don’t want to

be blamed. If something is 14 carat gold in news terms, it’s going to

get out.’

John Gray

British Red Cross

’If you build up a relationship of complete trust with a journalist,

perhaps one which is also based on friendship, you can give an

off-the-record comment which can be useful for a background briefing

These should not be given out to someone you’ve just met. A contentious

comment can prove just too irresistible.’

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