Jon Hibbs                                                  [email protected]
Deputy Director - Media Relations
Department of Health                                             11 June 2003 16.30       


Thank you for your letter to my colleague Lis Birrane about arrangements
for yesterday's press conference. This was off-camera but on-the-record,
for the benefit of bona fide members of the media. It is not our policy to
invite representatives of any other external organisations to cover such
events, whether they be charities, special interest groups, lobbyists or
campaigners. Nor are they open to members of the public.

The BBC Panorama programme requested permission for you to attend in the
company of one of their journalists, but this was refused on the above
grounds. In my view that decision was absolutely correct.

My press officers are entitled to ask anyone seeking entry to a
departmental briefing to show the appropriate media credentials. I am sorry
your journey was wasted, but I'm surprised that the Panorama journalist did
not inform you of the rules under which she and other members of the media
were invited.

I hope this explanation covers all the issues raised in your letter.

Yours etc,

[email protected]

Social Audit Ltd
P O Box 111 London NW1 8XG
Telephone/Fax 44 (0)20 7586 7771


Jon Hibbs, Deputy Director - Media Relations
Department of Health
Richmond House, Whitehall,
London SW1 12 June 2003

Dear Mr Hibbs,

Your casual familiarity is hugely unwarranted and, no, your email explanation did not cover the issues raised in my letter. I asked if I was denied access to this press conference solely on the authority of Ms Langley and, if not, at precisely what level was that decision authorised? I await a response.

I asked what the Department of Health hoped to gain by excluding me from this press briefing. Are you seriously asking me to accept that following orders and obeying rules – those that distinguish between "bona fide journalists" and others – is a complete and satisfactory explanation for what happened? Are these rules so important that the Department of Health makes no provision for common courtesy and common sense?

Your letter explained whom you do not invite, but that did not address the question of my exclusion after I had taken steps to secure agreement to my attendance from Mr Ryan. Nor have you explained whether or not my exclusion is felt to be consistent with the Department’s commitment to take ‘very seriously’ the recent concerns expressed by patient groups and in the media, in relation to the safety of SSRIs?

I invite you to try again, if only to underline that you do not regard the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information as a complete farce.

You should perhaps know that, immediately after the press briefing, I was approached on the forecourt of Richmond House by a senior member of the MHRA, who felt the need to apologise on your behalf. That seemed to me significant, if not touching, as she was the person who had undersigned my exclusion from the Intensive Review on the grounds I was not a scientist.

Finally, please supply full details of the rules, requirements and processes involved to secure accreditation as a "bone fide journalist".

Yours sincerely,
Charles Medawar


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