The editor of the Press Gazette has argued today that the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson’s persistent reluctance to answer a direct question with a straight answer strengthens the case for better regulation of the public relations industry.
The case for the prosecution stems from the Downing Street official’s obfuscation when asked by Christopher Hope, the Telegraph’s senior political reporter, to confirm whether Mr Cameron had enjoyed a jaunt aboard Raisa. Raisa, sadly anonymous during a life of public service but how enjoying posthumous celebrity, was the retired Met Police horse transferred to the care of Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of World, and her horse-training husband Charlie between 2008 and 2010.
David Cameron eventually admitted that he had indeed ridden Raisa while leader of HM Opposition, but not as PM. It would have been preferable had the Downing Street spokesperson not refused to answer a simple question when there was nothing apparent to hide. Having said that, I’ve lost count of the number of simply untrue stories that I’ve denied on the record to reporters, only to see those stories appear in print anyway with my denial usually the last sentence of the story.
Are there rogue PR people who have deliberately lied to or misled journalists? Yes, there are. But this no more indicates that we’re all guilty of doing so than the existence of a rogue reporter suggests every journalist has hacked a voicemail account or bribed a public official. Tarring everybody with the same brush, whether they’re a reporter or a public relations person, advances nothing. I’ve been both.
That doesn’t mean that the PR industry doesn’t acknowledge the benefits of greater transparency. The public relations and public affairs industry is currently working through the terms of a new regulatory regime, though consensus on the scope of the legislation seems a little evasive. I would like the pace of progress to be faster, but lots of people have views that need accounting.
It does seem to me that the more the economic downturn endures, the more our public institutions turn on one another. What a shame that this uneasiness with the standards in public life was less evident when the economy was propelled by nothing more than jet fuel fumes. There are a lot of stable doors being shut long after the horse has bolted, and not just Raisa who we now know carried David Cameron in her saddle across Oxfordshire’s rolling hills.