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A worried academic writes…

March 27, 2015

Apparently civil servants can’t have contact with the media any more.  It’s here in the Civil Service Code, under “Integrity” – fifth bullet:

‘Ensure you have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.’

I’m a bit worried about this.  I mean, I’m a retired tax inspector and I think of myself as an academic, mostly, these days, but I also publish a blog – does that make me a member of the media?

Well, no, I suppose not.  A blog is singular.  That’s one medium.  I’ve written for a couple of other blogs, too: Huffington Post, Ekklesia, Guerrilla Policy… they don’t pay, but they are plural: media, not medium.  Does that count?

I make a few quid on the side by writing articles too, when I can.  I’ve been on the Guardian website a couple of times.  I sold a couple of pieces to Pay and Benefits magazine.  And, although most of what I’ve written for Taxation is behind a paywall, including this week’s cover story, there’s this one which isn’t.  If I hadn’t already got a civil service pension, I wouldn’t have had to pay tax on my freelance earnings because they’re barely enough to pay my PhD fees, but does THAT make me a member of the media?

Because, if it does and I am, well, I’m a bit worried.

Because, you know, I used to be a Civil Servant.  For more than twenty years in fact, so it’s not surprising that I know people who are still there.  Do they have to have Ministerial permission to meet with me?  If so, it’s going to be a serious problem when I get to the next stage of my PhD research and start looking for current and former civil servants to interview about impact assessments.

No, it’s a serious question anyway.  The Civil Service Code says very clearly that (except under the whistle blowing provisions) they have to ensure they have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.

If I’m ringing up to talk to someone for an article I’m writing for a magazine, then I’m acting as a journalist and I’d expect the rules to apply.  That’s why I wouldn’t be stupid enough to do that – I’d ring the press office and ask them instead, d’oh.  But am I “media” when I’m writing my PhD?  When I’m watching television?  When I’m asleep?

So the next time I go down to London should my friends be sending the Exchequer Secretary a note asking if it’s all right for them to have a cup of coffee and a catch up with me?  If  I’m not writing an article?  If I promise that I don’t have my “journalist” hat on?  Well, all right, if I go and buy a hat that says “journalist” on it and then leave it at home?  Is THAT all right?  I just want to say hello to my friends, but I don’t want to get them into trouble.

And it’s my birthday this weekend.  Tomorrow, in fact.  How about coming out for birthday drink; does that count as contact?  What about contributing to my birthday present?  Does the Minister need to give approval in writing before any of them thinks of sending me a birthday card?

Can they still friend me on FaceBook and follow me on twitter, or does “contact” mean we have to be in the same room?  What about telephone calls?  Can I still go to the Treasury Book Club and if so do the books have to be vetted by the Minister?  Can they contact me by email on their personal accounts to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch’s delivery of the poem at Richard IIIs reinterment yesterday?

Can I wave at them if they’re passing by on a train?  Can we play video games together if we’re in different cities and we confine ourselves to non-verbal signals while we’re killing orcs?  Is playing bridge all right if we stick to Acol and there’s no chit chat over the sandwiches?  How do we feel about co-located activity with an etch-a-sketch?

One comment

  1. Nice post, raised a wry smile, but it rang of the recent conversation I had with my window cleaner about VAT.



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