Editorial: It’s time to put the brakes on spin

In reporting the Prime Minister’s decision to review the system for unattributable briefings, Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph contained the surreal sentence: ’Government sources said they were increasingly worried about reports attributed to Downing Street or Government spokesmen.’

In reporting the Prime Minister’s decision to review the system for

unattributable briefings, Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph contained the

surreal sentence: ’Government sources said they were increasingly

worried about reports attributed to Downing Street or Government

spokesmen.’



But after tying themselves in knots over the Chancellor’s EMU stance

this week perhaps the spin doctors could be forgiven for feeling

giddy.



Off the record briefings have a legitimate place in the PR person’s

armoury.



There are plenty of occasions in commercial as well as political life

when an organisation cannot take a public position on an issue, but

needs to avoid confusion by encouraging journalists to speculate in a

particular direction. The problems only arise when such briefings are

treated as the standard means for conducting government or company

business. Then the process starts to make that organisation look shifty

and Machiavellian.



And it encourages the media spotlight to focus on the PR advisers

instead of the politicians.



The media’s fascination with spin and spin doctors is in part a

self-obsession. But this Government’s style has exaggerated the

importance of spin - ministers are not allowed out without bleepers to

keep their public utterances on the straight and narrow, and the

communications strategists apparently rule the roost in Downing Street.

Meanwhile, the civil service is currently losing senior information

officers at a rate of knots thanks in part to the new regime’s

insistence on their edging ever closer to becoming political press

officers.



The obsession with control which is the hallmark of Labour’s

communications was bound to cause problems eventually, because you

cannot run a government as you would a political party.



The point was made painfully obvious this week. If Alan Duncan had

briefed a journalist about William Hague’s position on EMU before he

made any public announcement, it would have only mattered to the party.

But when the Chancellor’s press adviser did so, the market moved. And

when a later briefing appeared to contradict the earlier version, the

market went into turmoil.



There were many reasons why the last government, which was constantly on

the brink of rebellion and defeat in the Commons, needed to rely on

spin. But this Government, with its colossal Parliamentary majority, can

afford to be bolder in its public pronouncements and less reliant on

’whisper and nudge’ briefings. It should try it.



Attempts have been made before to curtail the use, or misuse, of the

lobby system without much success, but now would be a good time to adopt

a more open, Presidential style of mediarelations.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in