The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

This was an innovation in 1997. I think the background to it is that the incoming government saw the Conservative government 1992 to 1997 with civil servants running the press offices right across Whitehall and they thought there were opportunities to be gained in the presentation of the news if those particular jobs were held by people with a particular political opinion rather than with the independence of the Civil Service. That is the background.

And in 1997, in Number 10 and across Whitehall, political appointments were made to the information service. I think that was a very retrograde step. I disagree with it very strongly and I always have. I think so for several reasons. Once you have a political appointee rather than an independent civil servant, the word of the government is no longer unquestioned. With an independent civil servant, the press lobby knew they were going to get, or should have got, the unvarnished truth without any political gloss or spin.

Now, we've had political spin forever. Every politician since the dawn of time will put a gloss on something to ensure that it is presented in the best possible light. We've all done it. Everyone does that. But I think there is a distinction between a gloss and a deliberate attempt to deceive in the way in which the news is presented, and my concern was that once you move towards the politicisation of the government information services, which is what it was, you did move into a sphere where the news could be perverted rather than presented accurately and without spin to the media at large.

I think you also saw some other things which journalists are better able to talk about than I, but that they've certainly mentioned to me: people being given stories when other people weren't and presenting them with a particular tilt, so that when the story hit the public news, immediately it had a favourable tilt for the government rather than a neutral or perhaps even a deservedly unfavourable tilt. A whole range of things like that, which I'm sure this Inquiry has heard about, so I won't tediously run through them all.

But in short, I think the straightforward, clear cut certainty of an honest presentation of policy from the information service that was there when you had civil servants presenting it on behalf of the government was lost when you moved to a political information service.

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