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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 04:12 GMT 05:12 UK
No 10 briefings were 'outdated'
Off-the-record briefings
Could a technological leap have killed the off-the-record briefing?
Changes to the way the Downing Street press office is run were urgently needed, says a former Labour spin doctor.

Benn Wegg-Prosser, who was an advisor to former Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson, said the Hutton Inquiry into the death of the scientist Dr David Kelly had shown how much the government had to address the way it was getting its message across.

There were three main lessons to be learnt from the past few weeks' events, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Firstly, the rapid advance of technology and the speed with which news now travels mean off-the-record briefings to journalists are "a throwback to an outdated era and should come to an end", he said.

"They were always used as a way of promoting a policy in advance of its coming out or a way of cutting off a potentially damaging story by shifting attention from one area to another.

"These types of briefings were always given on the basis of trust - but what's changed is large numbers of people who cover politics are no longer prepared to treat those briefings as private.

Government department websites are still miles behind corporate websites
Benn Wegg-Prosser, former government spin doctor

"This paired with a communications leap in the past few years means their value is now of less significance," he said.

"The advance in communications methods means you can't really keep such briefings private in the way you used to - mobiles, pagers and the internet have seen to that."

The second element, according to Mr Wegg-Prosser, is on-camera briefings, like those held at the White House.

"The Downing Street official spokesman should be doing press briefings live on television," he said.

Web sleight

Thirdly, he said the government's use of technology to present information to the public should be addressed.

"The Downing Street website isn't very good and government department's websites in general are still miles behind corporate websites.

"But the Hutton Inquiry website has provided a huge amount of information to the public and it should be a model for the government to follow," he said.

The Hutton Inquiry website offers around 6,000 pages of evidence including emails, notes and memos and has published a plethora of sensitive documents surrounding the affair.

The traffic measurement company Hitwise reported the official Hutton Inquiry website was the most visited political website in the UK in July.


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