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Friday, May 19, 2006

Spin doctor quits

It was bound to end in tears. The Western Mail reports today that Rhodri Morgan's spin doctor - who mistakenly left a message on a reporter's phone describing journalists as "bastards" - is leaving to take up a temporary post with the human rights organisation Amnesty International. The paper explains:

The trade union Prospect obtained an apology from the Assembly Government in 2004 for its members following a formal complaint about Ms Owens's conduct.

An Assembly insider told us at the time, "Some people working in the press office have not been happy with the way she operates. They believe she has had a very abrasive way of dealing with people, hectoring them both on the phone from her office on the fifth floor of the Assembly building and in person at the press office on the second floor. She would sometimes appear to tell people how to do their job and try to dictate what should go into press releases. Her approach appeared more negative than positive. Sometimes she would be critical of work you'd written, complaining about the line you'd taken in a press release.

"People complained to the union and a written complaint was made about her behaviour. The Permanent Secretary, Sir Jon Shortridge, got involved. Afterwards she was spoken to by Paul Griffiths, the senior special adviser who is her line manager."

The Assembly Government confirmed an apology had been made.

Earlier this year Ms Owens mistakenly left a message on a Western Mail reporter's mobile phone voicemail describing all journalists as "bastards". That was in the wake of criticism by the Welsh Conservatives of intemperate remarks she had made about the Welsh Language Board, which she described as "in its death throes".

Nick Bourne, the party's leader in the Assembly, subsequently made a complaint alleging Ms Owens had breached the code for special advisers. The complaint was rejected by Rhodri Morgan.

To the best of my knowledge I have never met Ms Owens and for all I know she is a perfectly pleasant individual. However, the form of media manipulation she came to personify has suffered a setback as a result of her decision to move on.
It's a recurrence of the Adrian McMenamin phenomenon. Once the spindoctor becomes the story it's time to depart because the narrative gets obscured by the personality.
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