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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 22:21 GMT
No 10 briefings 'should be on TV'
Tony Blair at his first televised monthly briefing
Tony Blair at a monthly briefing
US-style televised briefings should replace the secretive lobby system used by Downing Street, a report says.

Currently, a select group of political journalists - the "lobby" - get twice daily briefings by No 10 spokesmen.

But a report by Bob Phillis, Guardian Media Group chief executive, says the lobby system "is no longer working effectively" for ministers or media.

However, one lobby journalist said he feared the changes could mean the public getting "less information".

It will turn into the 11 o'clock follies with the ridiculous spectacle of a very senior civil servant turning up with some sort of spin bite that he's got to get on the lunchtime news
Jon Smith
Press Association

Cabinet office minister Douglas Alexander said: "The government will now enter into discussions with the relevant public authorities, including Parliament and the Parliamentary Lobby, on how best to pursue these proposals."

But Jon Smith, political editor at the Press Association, said he was concerned the new style press conference could turn into a "ridiculous spectacle" with the public losing out.

It would be run by a senior civil servant keen to get a "spin bite" on the lunchtime news, who would "avoid and duck all difficult questions" and be dominated by broadcast journalists, he said.

Sun deputy political editor George Pascoe-Watson disagreed, describing it as a "very positive" move which he was sure colleagues would "embrace".

'Greater openness'

The inquiry was launched a year ago amid growing concern about the way some spin doctors were operating within government.

The report says: "We recommend that all major government media briefings should be on-the-record, live on television and radio and full transcripts available promptly online."

In its response to the report, the Cabinet Office said it believed "more ministers should host lobby briefings" and that they should be televised.

The proposed change would help address concerns over the way the government communicates, particularly after the naming of Iraq weapons expert Dr David Kelly.

Burying bad news

He apparently committed suicide after being confirmed as a source for a BBC story about the government's case for war with Iraq.

The report was commissioned - several months before Dr Kelly's death - in the wake of the row over ex-spin doctor Jo Moore.

She had to quit months after sending an e-mail on the day of the 11 September terror attacks suggesting that they were a good opportunity for the government to "bury" bad news.

The Phillis report says there is a duty to restore public trust in "legitimate" government communication.

The report attacks the "culture of secrecy" as being at the root of many of the current problems, adding that within government there should be an "overriding presumption of disclosure".




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Polly Billington
"This report is supposed to help make people trust the Government more"



SEE ALSO:
Parties to get early Hutton file
16 Jan 04  |  Politics
Spin inquiry targets Iraq dossier
11 Feb 03  |  Politics
Campbell prepares to hand over
30 Aug 03  |  Politics



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