hard heads soft hearts
Wednesday, June 05, 2002
excerpts from "The Complete Yes Minister" by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay:
"Government is about principle. And the principal is: don't rock the boat!"
"The Lobby was a uniquely British system, the best way yet devised in any democracy for taming and muzzling the press. This is because it is hard to censor the press when it wants to be free, but easy if it gives up its freedom voluntarily.
There were in the 1980's 150 Lobby Coresspondents, who had the special privilege of being able to mingle with MP's and Ministers in the Lobby behind both chambers of Parliament. However, they were not allowed to report anything they saw - e.g. MPs hitting one another - or anything they overheard.
You may ask: who stipulated what they were not allowed to do? Who made all these restrictions? Answer: The lobby correspondents themselves! In return for the freedom of access to Ministers and MPs, they excercised the most surprising and elaborate self-censorship.
The Lobby received daily briefings from the Prime Minister's Press Secretary at Number Ten Downing Street, and weeky briefings from the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. All these briefings were unattributable. The Lobby Correspondents argued that, in return for their self-censorship, they would learn infinitely more about the government its motives, and its plans. The politicians loved the Lobby system because they could leak any old rubbish, which the Lobby would generally swallow whole. As they had heard it in confidence, they believed it must be true.
We believe, with the advantage of hindsight, that the Lobby was merely one example of the way in which the British establishment dealt with potential danger or criticism - it would embrace the danger, and thus suffocate it.
The Lobby certainly discouraged political journalists from going out and searching for a story, as they only had to sit on their bottoms in Annie's Bar (the bar exclusively reserved for the press, with the highest alchoholic consumption of any of the thirteen bars within the Palace of Westminster - which was saying something!) and a `leak' would come their way."