Sir George comments on Alastair Campbell's departure
31 Aug 2003
"Alastair Campbell's resignation gives the Government an opportunity to review its policy on news management.
I take the view that information about what the Government does should be available equally to all news media and journalists, and that this information is best distributed by impartial civil servants. Of course, Ministers are entitled to give their own interpretation to this, as is everyone else. But the unspun information should be the basic raw material, which people use to construct their own interpretation.
What has happened under Alastair Campbell is that this information is not a "public good" - available to all. It is no longer in the possession of the neutral Civil Service for general distribution; it has been seized by the Strategic Communications Unit at No 10 and by special advisers and politically committed information officers in Government departments.
The raw material is then "spun" before it is released - often not equally to everyone, but sometimes on a selective basis. It is no longer a "public good", but a commodity with a value that can be traded.

For a journalist, this presents a dilemma. If the flow of information is cut off, he is denied his raw material. But if the information is given on a conditional basis - "we suggest that the story is as follows" - or if the information is "spun" before he gets it, his professional integrity and his ability to do his job properly is compromised.

The worm has turned; the public no longer believes what the Government tell them, and the media resent the way the Government seeks to manipulate the news.

It is time for a fresh start. Of course Ministers are entitled to special advisers, to help them formulate policy and to deliver their election manifesto. But the attempt to use those advisers to "present" those policies has backfired.

We should now revert to the system that served this country well for so long, and invite the Civil Service to resume the responsibility it used to hold."
 
Back to index. Index Back to index.
Back to index.

Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015