Observer editor asks Michael Gove to investigate 'highly personal attacks on journalists'

 

Observer editor John Mulholland has asked Education Secretary Michael Gove to investigate a Twitter account which the paper claims is being used by political special advisers to launch “highly personal attacks on journalists”.
 
The front page story in yesterday’s paper suggested Gove had been “plunged into a potentially toxic row over the allegations”, but a spokesperson for the Department for Education told Press Gazette that it had received no evidence to support the newspaper’s claims.

The Observer story claimed the @toryeducation account had been regularly used to conduct a “Tory propaganda campaign paid for by the taxpayer”.

The story said:  “It is often abreast of imminent Tory policies, suggesting it is coming from close to the centre of government. However, it is also used to rubbish journalists and Labour politicians while promoting Gove's policies and career.

“Issuing party political material and indulging in personal attacks are both clear breaches of the special advisers' code and the civil service code.”

While the account was described as “anonymous” by The Observer, the paper also noted that Conservative HQ's own Twitter account lists @toryeducation as one of four Twitter feeds "run by staff at Conservative campaign headquarters".

Conservative Central Office insisted it had nothing to do with the account and referred Press Gazette to the Department of Education.

A spokesperson said: “If we were to receive any evidence that anyone connected with the Department for Education had broken the Special Advisers Code or the Civil Service Code, then we would take appropriate steps. So far no such evidence has been provided.”

Among those attacked by the @toryeducation account were the Financial Times’s education correspondent Chris Cook, who was called a “stalker”, and The Observer’s political editor Toby Helm, who was accused of being a “Labour stooge” while working for The Daily Telegraph.

A tweet sent the night before the story was published said: 

In an opinion piece in yesterday’s paper Helm, said the account featured an “abundance of unpleasant material”.

Observer editor Mullhollad has written to Gove asking him to investigate the account, adding:

“We have established beyond doubt that a senior Conservative party official, alarmed at the aggressive and politically partisan nature of the posts on @toryeducation news in late summer of 2011, raised this issue directly with education secretary Michael Gove's special advisers..."

He also voiced his concern that some of the content was totally inappropriate, coming from anyone inside either the Tory party or the DfE itself.

"We understand representations on this issue have been made to those above."

Gove responded:  "I note the anonymous allegations you make. It would be helpful if you could supply me with evidence for these allegations so that I can determine the appropriate steps to take."

Special advisor Dominic Cummings told The Observer: "I'm not wasting time on the tantrums of Toby Helm and Chris Cook over anonymous Twitter accounts. Am I supposed to take seriously anonymous accusations about anonymous Twitter accounts ridiculing journalists with too much time on their hands?

"I suggest that your advice to both of them is: take a Twitter detox because it's melting your brains, focus on what's important, stop behaving like eight-year-olds, and Mr Helm ought to reflect on the bizarreness of twittering foul-mouthed abuse at people while complaining about being abused on Twitter. What would David Astor make of that?

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.