By David Rose
Westminster political correspondents are to co-operate with Downing Street in an independent review of relations between the Government and the media.
Phillis: will head relations review
Tony Blair has responded to MPs’ concern over the part played by spin doctors in briefing journalists by asking Bob Phillis, chief executive of Guardian Media Group, to head the review.
Special advisers have largely replaced government information officers in putting the political spin on government announcements.
MPs have been uneasy over their role since the infamous September 11 “bad news” e-mail sent by Stephen Byers’ former spin doctor Jo Moore.
Moore, Byers and Martin Sixsmith, then head of communications at the since reorganised Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, all subsequently left their government posts.
The all-party Commons Public Administration Committee, chaired by Labour MP Tony Wright, said the that “a radical review of government communications would be of great value”.
Since the committee’s report, Downing Street has also faced criticism over its handling of Cherie Blair’s involvement with conman Peter Foster, who purchased two flats for Blair’s son Euan in Bristol.
The Cheriegate affair is thought to have persuaded Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications, that an independent review was desirable.
Jon Smith, the Press Association’s political editor and the new lobby chairman, said the lobby would co-operate in presenting its own evidence.
“I have agreed with No.10 to present evidence to the inquiry, but in a structured and engaged way – not just fire off a whinge letter,” Smith told Press Gazette.
Smith is also seeking to improve relations with No.10 soured by its decision to replace lobby briefings with televised press conferences – open to non-lobby journalists – at the Foreign Press Association in Pall Mall.
“My brief is to raise with No. 10 the concern the lobby has had over the past year about the way we have been bounced into some arrangements,” he said.
“But I am looking to strengthen the dialogue with Downing Street to clear up what I think have been misunderstandings so we can look forward to a better 12 months than the year we have just had.”
Smith, who succeeds Daily Mirror political editor James Hardy, beat Sun deputy political editor George Pascoe-Watsonby 63 votes to 48 votes. Paul Linford, political editor of The Journal, Newcastle, was re-elected lobby secretary after beating Mail on Sunday political correspondent Jonathan Oliverby by 65 votes to 40.