Last week the Dominion Post published an excellent piece that lucidly argued for the management of some prisons to be contracted out to private companies. The research, in particular, was meticulous, and would have taken a journalist several days.

According to the paper, it was written by Judith Collins, and was accompanied by a photo of the Corrections Minister standing in a prison cell with Pita Sharples. In case of any confusion, the article concluded with, in small type: "Judith Collins is Corrections Minister".

It was full of facts and figures, and written in the first person. For example: "I visited prisons during my 20-plus years as a lawyer ..." and "I believe it is more important that we have effective and safe prisons than cheap ones."

Readers should have been impressed, but I had a nagging problem. Despite the article's intro, stating: "By changing the law to allow private management of prisons, we are giving ourselves a choice, writes Judith Collins", the Minister didn't actually write it.

When I checked with her office, a spokesperson confirmed it was written under instructions from the Minister but was essentially her article.

When push came to shove, no

one I spoke to could quantify how much of the piece was written by Collins in reality, but they insisted it was her idea, she put forward the arguments, and she signed it off.

On Monday, the same paper's political editor, Tracy Watkins, wrote an op-ed political essay, with her photo and byline.

I strongly suspect that if Tracy Watkins hired some underlings to write her articles for her, telling them what arguments to push, then signed off on the final copy before hitting the send button to the editor and claimed sole credit, she'd be fired. As would I, and justifiably so.

So why do politicians get away with it? I don't mean to pick on Judith Collins, who seems to be doing a fine job of holding at bay the confused self-publicist Bevan Hanlon, from the Corrections Association.

All politicians are queuing to get their names and/or faces in the media these days, being seen to be doing something, and why not? If the reporters ignore them, they should take the initiative, bypass the press gallery and go straight to editors.

But most MPs can't write to save themselves, that's why they rely on their staff to do it for them. So are they being honest when they claim sole credit for authorship of stuff they don't actually write, even if it is their political philosophy?

Act's Heather Roy, now Minister of Consumer Affairs, was caught out last month when a stuff-up occurred in her weekly diary, which she churns out for thousands of readers.

She'd jumped the gun and announced across-the-board cuts by the Government of 10 per cent in the public service. When she had to retract that statement, Ian Llewellyn from NZPA chased down the facts and revealed it was a staffer who had written the diary, at least on that particular occasion, and not Roy.

So, in all honesty, shouldn't it be called Heather Roy's Staffer's Diary? Should the Dominion Post have bylined the Collins' piece: "writes Judith Collins' office"?

Politicians aren't alone. The corporate world's been at this for decades. CEOs who want a company line pushed in a certain way trot downstairs to public relations, nut out a line for media, and lo - an article appears with the CEO's byline plus photograph.

Or they will email the executive director of a business lobby group they belong to, he'll call in the PR blonde, she will craft something consumer-friendly, and wow! Did you know the boss of a steel manufacturing conglomerate could write like a fashion maven?

Really, sometimes they'd be better to write in their own down-to-earth language rather than use the meaningless eco-babble currently in vogue.

State Services Minister Tony Ryall, the day after Collins' article was published, announced a government purge on public service spin doctors. That's a good thing. Journalists don't like talking to the giraffe-keepers instead of the giraffes.

The jobs of more than 300 in public sector public relations, he said, could be reviewed, but I bet that won't include those who look after the politicians.

I know from experience how disgustingly busy an MP's life is, but in 2004 when this organ's editor offered me this column, his facial expression said, don't flatter yourself.

I was chosen, he said, because I was the only MP he could trust to write my own material.

Spin doctors should think about that, and what really makes their MP look good.

Someone else does the brush strokes, chooses the colours, the MP signs the painting, all hell breaks loose. Someone else writes the sentences, chooses the adjectives and verbs, the MP signs the article.

What's the difference?