No.10 plans TV brie?ngs and a new deal for regional press

The “spin-free” era of government communications is likely to kick off with televised daily brie?ngs from 10 Downing Street and improved relations with regional morning and evening newspaper journalists.

The Prime Minister signalled on Wednesday that he wants the idea of on-camera brie?ngs to be examined by the committee headed by Bob Phillis, chairman of Guardian Media Group, which is examining ways to improve relations between the Government and the media.

Tony Blair also moved promptly to accept a recommendation in an interim report from the Phillis committee that new director of communications David Hill will not have the same power as Alastair Campbell – who announced his resignation last week – to give directions to civil servants.

The committee will examine the idea of daily televised brie?ngs before it presents its ?nal report.

Meanwhile, Hill is expected to react to complaints from political journalists in the regional press who have felt left out in the cold since the morning brie?ngs were moved from Downing Street to the Foreign Press Association in Carlton House Terrace.

Lobby chairman Jon Smith highlighted their complaint when he gave evidence to the committee. Because of the 30 minutes it takes to get to the FPA and back, the length of the brie?ngs and the fact that little information emerges, many evening paper lobby journalists no longer attend.

Hill, who as a member of the Phillis committee is aware of the complaint, is expected to mend fences with the regional lobby when he takes on his new job.

Chris Fisher, political editor of the Eastern Daily Press and former chairman of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, said: “I hope that regime change in the Downing Street press operation will produce a better understanding of the regional press.

“The EDP outsells all other papers in its circulation area, and the same applies to many other regional papers.

The Campbell regime kept saying that [it understood], but kept showing in its actions that it didn’t.”

Brendan Carlin, chairman of the Newspaper Conference and political editor of the Yorkshire Post, said: “I hope Mr Hill will remind Mr Blair of the relevance of the regional press and it will result in more of us being given the opportunity to question the PM at his monthly press conferences.”

Blair told Phillis he wanted his committee to examine whether transparency will be enhanced by televised daily brie?ngs, whether they should be given by ministers and how this can be done without undermining Parliament.

Print lobby journalists have long resisted having cameras present at their daily afternoon brie?ngs with a Downing Street spokesman in Parliament. Cameras are admitted for Blair’s monthly press conferences and when ministers brief journalists at the morning brie?ngs held at the FPA.

Blair told Phillis: “The Government would particularly value your group’s thoughts on such improvements and in particular the way the current system of daily government brie?ngs operate.”

Hill’s arrival at No 10 may improve relations with regional journalists

By David Rose

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