Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website
When searching for news and checking facts reporters often have to bend the rules and possibly break the law. But through its covert mass purchase of confidential mobile phone messages the News of the World has blackened the reputation of British journalism. In a true democracy journalists have to be free to investigate without the constant fear of falling foul of the state or of being hounded by the police and the courts.  Indeed principled journalists are ready to go to jail rather than reveal their sources.  But there is a huge difference between a justified breach of personal privacy in support of investigative journalism and a blatant fishing trip for private and confidential information.

Journalists were given little encouragement during a debate on the Priorities for Digital Britain -- a forum held in the wake of the recent report by the outgoing communications minister Lord Carter. Google – which earns 15 per cent of its global income in the UK – insisted it was sharing some of its massive online advertising revenue with UK newspapers and television channels but this was of little reassurance to news providers attending an event organised by the Westminster Media Forum (9.7.2009).

Will the fall-out from the scandal over MPs’ expenses – and the probable election of a Conservative government – lead to a clean-up in the spin culture of Downing Street and Whitehall?   Greater transparency has become the mantra across the public sector and the government’s spin machine is unlikely to escape unscathed.

Simon Lewis, the Prime Minister’s new official spokesman, says he only took the job on condition it would be non political and that he would be able to conduct himself with civil service neutrality. Unlike previous Downing Street directors of communications such as Alastair Campbell, Lewis is not a Labour Party appointee.  He has accepted a two-year civil service contract and when asked (at a debate in London at the Reform Club 1.7.2009) whether he would like to remain at No.10 should David Cameron defeat Gordon Brown in the general election expected in May 2010, he made it clear he has an open mind and intends to wait and see what happens.

 Simon Lewis, the newly-appointed director of communications in Downing Street, might be forgiven for thinking his only role will be to pull down the shutters on the last chance saloon for the Labour Party’s discredited spin doctors. But although the Prime Minister has probably less than a year in power, Lewis does have an opportunity to turn a new page in the government’s relationship with the news media and roll back the abuses which were institutionalised by Alastair Campbell and which spawned the Damian McBride scandal.