Can a press release really be on background? The staff of a prominent Australian politician this morning sent around a rather anodyne press release about Australia Day. But what raised eyebrows in the Crikey bunker was the very top line, which contained a brief and not very important line given to journalists "on background".

Background briefings can help make the work of journalists more informed and help steer them clear of obvious errors. But information given "on background" can also be a way to avoid accountability, with a journalist left to stake his or her reputation on the truthfulness of a claim without being able to be transparent about its source. A press release given on background is highly unusual -- and not very helpful. -- Myriam Robin