The Prime Minister made a major speech on the economy earlier today, and so, as would be expected, I put a call in to the Treasury beforehand to interview a Minister after the Prime Minister had finished speaking. I was told only,
“Can I take your number, I don’t think we’ve decided whether we’re doing any press”.
I was slightly disturbed that on the morning of a major Prime Ministerial speech on the economy, the Treasury hadn’t decided whether they were “doing any press”.
This particular request is merely the latest of several bids we have had in to the Government, and one of most that has not been met with the most minor of Government interviews.
It seems that political advisers are asking departmental press officers to run every single interview request by them, rather than making a judgement call on whether a request satisfies the Civil Service criteria to constitute a Governmental, rather than “Political” request.
A source close to Number 10 tells me that the coalition Government takes the view that Ministers have more important things to do than filling the airwaves.
I don’t like this “New Politics” at all. It stinks to high Heaven.
I want to take a moment to address criticism from one of my Twitter followers, David White, who understandably thinks I’m being a bit unfair on these guys.
Here’s what David tweeted earlier today,
“Sean, let them get on with their jobs, which are not solely to talk to journos. Give them some slack for a bit, then hound them”.
I can understand that from David’s perspective, he probably sees my frustration as being frustration that the Treasury (in this case) are not taking time to speak to me personally.
I pointed out that this is a democracy and that journalists have a duty to scrutinise these guys, and hold them to account, but Mr White still thought I was being less than fair. He wrote,
“You’re a hard man. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of you. And you sound so fair on the radio”
… And so, I explained that it is fair to invite them on, and fair to report whether they accept that invitation, where appropriate, explaining the reason for their refusal.
The final note from David was,
“Agreed, but they have to be allowed to do some work to be scrutinised”.
David, please let me take a moment to say that you are certainly not on “the wrong side of me”, and actually, I’m a pussy cat really… but I utterly refute the suggestion that I have been unfair in any way, shape or form.
You say that I sound “so fair on the radio”. This is because I am fair. This is what I am about. It is important to remember that when politicians speak to the press, they speak to the public. When they answer our questions, they answer YOUR questions. We are you!
Please let me assure you (and you can choose whether to accept what I say), that friends and colleagues across all media share in my frustrations here.
The media offer an important check and balance, and I am afraid that it would be fundamentally wrong for us to let the coalition Government implement policy before scrutinising proposed policy. If we wait, it will be too late.
All we do is to report the facts, and ask the questions that our readers, listeners and viewers would ask. It’s called democracy, and in a strange way, I kind of like it.
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