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By Liam Herbert |

May 29, 2012 | 4 min read

David's Cameron's head of communications have been getting it tight in recent months, with latest addition Craig Oliver the latest to step into the media glare having allowed himself to be unwittingly filmed rebuking a BBC reporter outside Number 10 last week. The video has now become an interet hit, and will be another media interaction that the current Government would have wished gone unreported. Liam Herbert, director at JBP for PR & Parliamentary Affairs offer his own 'sympathetic' reaction.

In scenes that would not look out of place in The Thick of It – Armando Iannucci’s deliciously wicked view of government spin – Craig Oliver was caught on camera engaged in what could be described as “media management” in true Malcolm Tucker style – but without the swearing.

“Get on to the BBC and ********* nuke them. Nuke them and rebuke them,” as Malcolm Tucker – the fictional head of government communication once said.

As head of communications for the Prime Minister and a former BBC employee it’s probably safe to assume that Craig Oliver would know one of the basic rules of communications – beware of cameras and microphones.

So when he stepped into Downing Street to berate BBC political correspondent Norman Smith about an item he presented on the BBC 6 O’clock news the result was a brilliantly entertaining rant.

Commentators have been quick to jump on this video as a classic example of “bully boy” tactics in Downing Street and a continuation of attempts at news management. The truth, I would suggest, is more prosaic and every day in its nature.

Government has always sought to influence the news agenda – Mr Oliver is the latest in a long line of specialists used by all political parties to polish their stories and promote the policies of those in power. Some have become more famous than others – Alistair Campbell working for Labour under Tony Blair and Bernard Ingham as Margaret Thatcher’s legendary press secretary both adopted a “robust” approach to journalists.

Craig Oliver has been caught having a conversation with a journalist – a conversation where he disagrees with the content of a news report. Let us be under no illusion, media relations people have conversations with journalists like this every single day and not just in the political arena. True, very few ever see the light of day – or are profiled so extensively via the internet.

Does it tell us anything about how Government and particularly the Conservatives are responding to Murdoch and Leveson? I would suggest not.

The Lobby is a tough place; journalists who work in the Lobby are a tough breed and generally smart with it. I am sure this in not the first time a press officer has taken issue with Norman Smith, I am positive it will not be the last. Will it change how he reports the news as he sees it – absolutely not!

Craig Oliver has given the Westminster Village a great show and something to gossip about – he will probably check that the camera is off next time. He was doing his job and Norman Smith was doing his in defending his work – it was fun to watch but let’s not get carried away with tales of government spin and news management.

Conservative Party BBC Public Relations

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