Blair’s briefings ‘a waste of time’
Tony Blair’s new-style televised morning briefings have been called a waste of time by some lobby journalists who don’t even turn up for them.
In October, Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister’s director of communications, moved the briefings from Downing Street to the Foreign Press Association in Carlton House Terrace, and invited foreign correspondents to attend – a move which startled Westminster’s 200 political reporters.
But, because of the 30 minutes it takes to get there and back, the length of the briefings, and the fact that little information comes out of them, the meetings have proved a disappointment for evening paper journalists.
In evidence to the Phillis Inquiry on spin, lobby chairman Jon Smith said: “The morning briefings – given their distance, their potential length and the paucity of information on offer – have been rendered all but useless for evening newspaper lobby members depriving one whole section of the lobby of any useful daily information on any organised basis.”
While Smith, the Press Association’s political editor, acknowledged that meetings had proved “valuable in news terms” when ministers have been fielded, he said they have been fraught with difficulties for broadcasters because of the short notice they have been given.
But Smith concluded that even for the rest of the lobby “the quality of information on offer has dwindled noticeably”.
Relations between Downing Street and Sunday newspaper political reporters have also become strained.
“The Sunday lobby now gets no organised briefings from No 10, in a break from a practice going back several decades,” says Smith. “They receive not even the minimum information about the following week’s events which was once offered on a routine basis.”
Smith continued: “It is difficult sometimes not to despair that there is a deliberate ‘buggeration factor’ built by No10 into the government’s relations with the Lobby.”
The PM set up the inquiry under Bob Phillis following the row over the infamous Jo Moore e-mail affair.
Smith said there was concern that it had become routine practice under New Labour for spin doctors to brief correspondents on matters which should be the responsibility of departmental press officers.
But Smith said that when it came to government press officers, regional newspapers and broadcasters were “currently being very badly served by the government information and communication service”.
The exceptions were the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence – whose news departments included “professionals” – diplomats and military personnel.
By David Rose