Figures reveal Government spent £1.8m on tracking press coverage

Nine government departments paid just under £1.8m during the last financial year on checking newspaper, broadcast and online journalism coverage, it has emerged.

Civil servants sign up to receive costly news subscription services, press cuttings and feedback from social networking. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office splashed out more than £500,000 and £250,000 respectively.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This is a staggering sum of taxpayers’ money to spend just to monitor the headlines.

“There are cheaper and more effective ways to do this. Whitehall needs to get to grips with spending that has been out of control for too long – that means cutting down on overly expensive and unnecessary media monitoring.”

Officials pay organisations such as Durrants and Precise to send the news stories. A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: “We have an interest in a vast number of international issues including the provision of information and assistance to Britons abroad in consular crises, where often the media can give us critical information in fast-moving situations.

“The media can also be an important partner for us in helping to disseminate public information in times of crisis and to help us glean information from journalists on the ground.

“At all times, being aware of breaking news and media commentary is an important factor in effective diplomacy delivered in support of UK interests.”

In the past three years government departments have made a concerted effort to reduce spending on media monitoring.

A Cabinet Office team now provides news briefings and media monitoring and some departments employ staff to monitor Twitter.

Since 2009, the Foreign Office spokesman added, its media budget has reduced by 29 per cent.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said: “The Department uses media monitoring to measure the effectiveness of its communications in providing our audiences with timely and accurate information on the Department’s policy reforms and operations in education and children’s  services.”

The DfE cut its communication budget from £56m in 2009/2010 to less than £1m last year and its communication staff numbers dropped from 130 to 48 in the same period. The Treasury paid £152,309 for media monitoring during 2011/2012 compared to £448,481 in 2009/2010 which is a 65 per cent reduction.

Rod Brown, a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “Professional media monitoring is essential to understand the broad and fast-moving issues relevant to the department and to ensure that government policy is being portrayed accurately to the public.”

The figures obtained via FoI cover the financial year between April 2011 and March 2012.

The Ministry of Defence has not yet replied to the FOI request. The 2011/2012 overall spending:

The Treasury: £152,309

Home Office: £254,320

Foreign Office: £524,671

The DfE: £94,000

The Department for

Communities and Local

Government: £75,809

The Department for Business,

Innovation and Skills: £194,000

The Department for Culture,

Media and Sport: £123, 105

The Department for Work and

Pensions: £152,000

The Department of Health:

£222,240

Overall: £1,792,454

This story was first published on Paul Harper's blog: www.paulharperjourno.wordpress.com/

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