At a conference on spin, PR and government press officers last week, I was asked to speak briefly (a challenge).
I said I had noted over about five years an increasingly aggressive approach on the part of some government communications directors – with some honourable exceptions.
I said: “We often get supplied incorrect information. We know ministers are given incorrect information…the Prime Minister has even been given incorrect information about the NHS computer system”. This is not usually the fault of press officers but is sometimes the responsibility of senior civil servants or advisers who brief ministers – or who brief press officers.
It was a lively conference, which was chaired by Lord Fowler, chairman of the House of Lords Committee on Communications. Among the speakers was David Hill, a director of Bell Pottinger who was the Prime Minister’s PR adviser. Hill replaced Alistair Campbell who was Tony Blair’s controversial PR expert.
Hill wants to see more positive coverage of government. [But positive articles need to be credible – not one-sided.] He also suggested that officials do not want to say too much in case the material is used against them.
I told the Westminster Media audience that I was prevented last month from attending a conference on a subject related to the NHS’s National Programme for IT on the basis that it was due to be “full”.
On another occasion a health minister’s press officer at Richmond House, the headquarters of the Department of Health, had physically barred my access to a press conference because he said it would not be of interest to me.
“I have seen manipulation of information and control of journalists which I have never seen before,” I said.
A fuller report of the Westminster conference is on the website of Spinwatch.
Government spin – a worrying precedent – IT projects blog
Spinwatch – report of the conference
Spin and mistakes by HM Revenue and Customs – IT Projects blog
Flat Earth News – book which prompted the Westminster conference