Journalists given major role in spin doctors probe

National and regional journalists will play a key role in overhauling the troubled relationship between the Government and the media.

Tony Blair this week finally responded to MPs’ concerns over the role of spin doctors in briefing journalists by ordering a review of the government information regime.

As widely forecast, the review will be headed by Bob Phillis, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group.

But newspaper concerns will be safeguarded by the inclusion in the review team of two former lobby chairmen – Charles Reiss, political editor of the Evening Standard, and John Hipwood, London editor of the Express and Star, Wolverhampton – and Nicholas Timmins, public affairs editor of the Financial Times.

Broadcasters will be represented by Richard Tait, until recently editor-in-chief of ITN; spin doctors by David Hill, Labour’s former chief communications director; the government information service by Godric Smith and Tom Kelly, the Prime Minister’s official spokesmen, and by Sue Jenkins, deputy head of GICS.

Sian Jarvis, communications director at the Department of Health and a former political correspondent of GMTV, will be able to offer a unique insight, having experience of both sides of the communications divide.

Other members are Colin Browne, partner, Maintland Consulting; Rupert Howell, recently joint chief executive of Chime Communications; and Howell James, political secretary to the Prime Minister, 1994-97.

Jon Smith, lobby chairman and political editor of the Press Association, has promised the lobby will co-operate in giving evidence.

The review follows the row over the infamous 11 September “bad news” e-mail sent by Stephen Byers’ former spin doctor Jo Moore. Moore, Byers and Martin Sixsmith, communications director at the former Transport, Local Government and the Regions Department, all subsequently lost their jobs.

Welcoming the review, Tony Wright, Labour chair of the Commons Public Administration Committee, said: “This is an opportunity to see off spin once and for all and to establish a new relationship between the Government and the media.”

By David Rose

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