Comms lesson of Iraq Inquiry

The Iraq Inquiry has set a new template for transparent communications in future official inquiries, its head of communications told PRWeek.

Rae Stewart spoke out this week, as the inquiry concluded its main open evidence sessions. The final report is expected later this year.

Stewart explained his decision to share all public hearings with TV news channels, as well as to stream the content live on the internet.

He said: 'This has not happened before ... Any inquiry with a high a level of public interest in it is now going to have to consider whether it should be on TV and, at the very least, streamed on the internet so that people can have access to it.'

Stewart, also chief press officer at the Cabinet Office, added: 'I'm aware that I may have caused lots of problems for people setting up inquiries in the future. But long gone are the days where you just issue a press release. Let people have a look themselves - it's about active participation for the public. We have shown that it can be done.'

Top journalists praised the media operation. Garry Gibbon, political editor of Channel 4 News, told PRWeek: 'I've watched a few seasons change at different inquiries and the Iraq Inquiry is definitely one of the most user-friendly.

Operational information comes through with good notice, advice is dispensed with courtesy and effectiveness. The web broadcast is a great asset. It's a very good operation - other inquiries could learn from it.'

The media team also provided journalists with a live on-screen transcription of the hearings. Gibbon said: 'The transcription service is heroic.'

Meanwhile The Guardian's political correspondent Andrew Sparrow told how he made use of the video feed to successfully blog on all the main hearings.

However, Gibbon and other journalists said they were frustrated that certain official documents had not been made available during the inquiry.

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