In February 1990 Head of the NI Civil Service Ken Bloomfield circulated Guidance on Relations with Journalists to permanent secretaries. It was triggered by Cabinet Secretary Robin Butler’s circulation of Bernard Ingham’s guidance to civil servants. (Ingham was Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary and headed up the Government’s Information Office.)
Writing to local NI information officers, the NIO’s director of information and chief press officer Andy Wood warned:
“… because of the smallness of the province and of the social scene populated by the chattering classes, official/journalist contact is, I judge, more frequent than in GB”.
Although he adopted “a not too restrictive attitude to such contacts (preferring to credit colleagues with the good sense not to go too far … there have been occasions when such contact can end in ‘tears before bedtime’ – it is only sensible to remind people that talking to journalists can have a down side as well as an up side”.
The correspondence and briefings are contained in a Department of Economic Development file – DED/21/8/60 [partial PDF] – that has been released yesterday at the Public Records office of Northern Ireland under the 20 Year Rule.
Compare and contrast the style and fonts used in the letters. The NIO press chief clearly had access to a fancier word processor and printer than everyone else!
An official at the Industrial Development Board wrote back to Ken Bloomfield to remind him that “because the IDB is involved in an area of activity which is of interest to journalists … there is perforce greater contact with the media here than may be true elsewhere”.
In the polite but robust note he went on to explain that “it would be a considerable administrative burden for us to keep Andy Wood informed of every contact we had with journalists in our normal day to day business”. He proposed that there was no need to change the IDB’s relationship with the press or with the NIO’s director of information.
“As the Americans say ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it.”