Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Department for Regional Development and Press Freedom?

Whatever you say, say nothing

The following email exchanges are between Paul Priestly, the then Permanent Secretary at the Department for Regional Development (DRD), and Brian White, the Director of DRD's Ports and Public Transport Division. Is it common for editors and journalists from the mainstream media to be offered Ministerial or Civil Service 'guidance'?

26 August 2008 11:54


The attached Newsletter article appears to conflate a number of (hopefully) separate issues in  a rather unhelpful way.

Is  there a case for the Minister, me or Anne writing to the editor in an effort to untangle the issues or should we have Sam McBride in for a briefing to try and build his understanding, or are we better to say nothing? 


26 August 2008 13:24


I am not certain that Sam McBride or the Newsletter are looking for helpful explanations or to diffuse the story. To the contrary, the fact that the headline is rather more lurid than the story, presumably betrays the editorial stance. 

The issues in the article fall within the range of those which are subject to investigation and I think that we are best saying nothing until  the various investigations are complete. The danger otherwise is that we say something  that turns out to be incorrect or is in some way at odds with  the outcome of  the  investigations. 

It might also appear that we had been trying to pre-empt the investigations. 

You had indicated last week that, once the Assembly returns to business, we would need to be ready to  receive queries and questions about the Rathlin contract. In general, I think that our best course will be to  refuse to go into detail while investigations are being conducted. It would be hard to sustain that line if we had  recently briefed the Newsletter. 


26 August 2008 13:37


Thanks.  On reflection, I agree.