JN513Lwk4spin - Centre for Journalism

Communication and
Political Spin
Political Reporting (JN513/815)
Lecture Outline
• 1. Modern Governmental
• 2. The PR State
• 3. Spin Doctors
Modern Governmental
• “Communication has moved to the centre stage of
government and democratic politics.” (Sanders 2009, p. 74)
• Government and Media: “the two institutions are highly
interdependent…” (Errington and Miragliotta 2007, p. 82).
Modern Governmental
• Governments are now major employers of
journalists, public relations practitioners and
advertising personnel.
o UK government employed 3,200 press officers in
2006 - when Labour came to power in 1997 there
were only 300 fully-fledged public relations
• Yet, overall employment levels for journalists has
fallen. Drop of between 25 to 31 per cent in the
number of journalists in Britain over 30 years leading
up to 2000 (Davis 2003, 32).
Modern Governmental
• Employment in the U.S. newspaper industry fell by 44 per
cent between 2001 and 2011.
• In the U.S. with the closure of a number of major
newspaper titles in 2009 ‘daily papers cut their
newsrooms by 11% in 2008, the biggest one-year drop
since 1978 … [and] nearly 10,000 journalists were laid-off
or took buyouts in the first five months of 2009 alone’
(Kirchhoff 2011, 32).
• In Australia in 2012, major print news organisations, News
Limited and Fairfax, announced major restructuring of
their businesses with large job losses. Fairfax said it would
axe 1900 staff overall from its workforce of over 10,000,
including at least 300 editorial staff.
Modern Governmental
• The public relations industry, broadly defined, has
experienced tremendous growth in recent
decades: the British corporate public relations
sector grew eleven-fold in real terms between 1979
and 1998 (Miller and Dinan 2000) and more recently
it has been reported that 48,000 people work
directly in PR in Britain and that the sector has a
turnover of about 6.5 billion pounds, making it a
significant industry for the national economy
(Fawkes 2012, p. 7).
Modern Governmental
• Blair’s electoral victory in 1997 was based upon a
systematic reworking of the party’s internal media and
communications management framework started in the
mid-1980s with a unit headed by Peter Mandelson and
involved party and media personnel, including
advertising professional Philip Gould.
• “Mandelson and Gould succeeded not because they
exploited slick advertising and media management
more effectively than the Conservatives, but because
they forged between themselves an approach to
political strategy which has never before been seen …
They welded policy, politics and image-creation into
one weapon” (Hughes and Wintour 1993, p. 183).
Modern Governmental
• Labour’s
management strategy
began as a defensive
response to the
editorial hostility of the
conservative news
media towards Labour
in the decade or so
before Blair became
party leader in 1994
(Moloney 2001, p. 128).
Modern Governmental
• Four principle features of
the Millbank model:
1. Strong central control
and coordination
2. Setting the agenda
and proactivity
3. Rapid and robust
4. Import of political
staffers into the
government machine
(Sanders 2009, pp. 80-82)
Modern Governmental
• Criticisms of the Millbank model:
• it undermined government commitment to
parliamentary accountability,
• gave unelected officials great power,
contaminating civil servant political neutrality,
• it produced great centralization of control in
Downing Street,
• it spread skepticism about politics and undermined
public trust (Sanders 2009, p. 82).
Modern Governmental
• Increasingly sophisticated government
communication strategies and management are
partly in response to the rapidly changing media
environment characterized by ubiquity, speed,
quantity, accessibility, fragmentation (Sanders 2009,
p. 74).
Modern Governmental
• “Something few people
will say, but most know is
absolutely true [is that] a
vast aspect of our jobs
today – outside of the
really major decisions … is
coping with the media, its
sheer scale, weight and
constant hyperactivity. At
points, it literally
overwhelms.” (Tony Blair)
Modern Governmental
• Split between political and
civil service
communications operations.
• Craig Oliver – Downing
Street Director of
• http://www.independent.c
• Alex Aiken, Executive
Director of Government
Communications, Cabinet
The PR State
• The PR State - the institutionalization of PR within
government where information and
communication have become integral policy tools.
• Growth of PR State needs to be placed in context
of PR growth in corporate world and general
promotional culture of public life.
The PR State
• The PR state:
o Media minders;
o Media units (e.g. Government Members
Secretariat (GMS));
o Public affairs sections with public service
o and ‘whole of government’ information
coordination offices (e.g. Ministerial
Committee on Government Communication
(MCGC)) (Ward 2003, pp. 28-29).
The PR State
• The Rudd government in Australia abolished the
Howard government’s Ministerial Committee for
Government Communications in 2008 but the
principles and practices of strong centralised
government control over communications remains.
Spin Doctors
• ‘Spin’ – the “highly professional selling of the
political message that involves maximum
management and manipulation of the media
(Michelle Grattan)
• Moloney emphasises the contestation in spin and its
effect on the public: ‘Spin’ is uncivil, aggressive,
demeaning work of promotion and detraction by
one part of the political class for itself and often
against another part. It usually departs the political
sphere as an exchange or as a contest with
journalists about information for editorial coverage,
and mostly is weak propaganda aimed at the
public (2001, pp.124-5).
Spin Doctors
• Spin doctors are usually
political staffers,
working as media
advisers, but sometimes
particular high profile
politicians assume the
unofficial status of spin
doctors for a political
Spin Doctors
• Churchill in 1951 tried
unsuccessfully to live
without a press secretary.
• U.K. political parties
adopted a ‘more
systematic approach to
the media’ from the
1960s, particularly due to
growing influence of TV.
• Growing role of press
secretary as media
manager and early spin
doctor embodied in
Bernard Ingham,
Thatcher’s press
Spin Doctors
• Spin doctoring became
synonymous with New
Labour largely through
the figure of Alastair
Campbell, Blair’s Director
of Communications and
Strategy. Campbell often
exerted great control
over journalists through
force of his personality,
direct engagements with
editors, and control of the
release and dissemination
of information according
to the levels of
compliance of journalists.
Spin Doctors
“The Most Powerful Man
in Britain Quits”
The Daily Mirror
“PM’s lost his brain” The Sun
Blair without Campbell is like fish without chips –
Spin Doctors
• Campbell exerted great control in the Blair
government, able to not only provide party political
advice but also to direct civil servants, a structural
power that was rescinded in a reorganisation of
governmental communication (Phillis Commission
report in 2004) after Campbell’s resignation in 2003.
Spin Doctors
• The Thick of It
Spin Doctors
• Damian McBride:
former spin doctor for
Gordon Brown.
• http://www.newstates
• http://www.youtube.c
Spin Doctors
• As one British MP has noted the currency of ‘spin
doctors’ alludes to the more ‘systematic and
professional way’ (quoted in Gaber 2000, 508) in
which political news management is now
Spin Doctors
• Spin doctor functions:
o control of media access to politicians (preventing spontaneous
questioning, favouring reporters with access – ‘on the drip’)
o packaging of information and control of timing of release of information
for media and public consumption, (pseudo-events, exploitation of
deadlines, etc)
o forms of direct communication with journalists about interpretations of
political events and comments (including attempted control of the
sources the journalist might draw on).
Spin Doctors
• Practices and activities that involve the provision of
information and those that involve more covert
expressions of tactics and persuasion (Gaber).
• ‘Above the line’ activities such as the planning of
government or party announcements, arranging
and publicising interviews, speeches and articles, as
well as reacting to breaking news events and
responding to opposition and public reactions to
statements from the spin doctor’s politician.
• ‘Below the line’ activities involving direct
negotiations with journalists and active interventions
in the news agenda.
Spin Doctors
• Power of spin doctors can be overstated. As with
public relations activity more generally, spin often is
not successful.
• The fragility and indeterminacy of public life means
that the best-planned campaign can founder.
• Spin encounters spin from opponents, and spin still
receives news media and public scrutiny, especially
over controversial issues.
Davis, A. 2003, ‘Public relations and news sources’, in S. Cottle (ed.) News, Public Relations and
Power, London, Sage.
Errington, W. and Miragliotta, N. (2007) The Politics of Spin, in: Media & Politics: An Introduction,
Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, pp. 80-99.
Fawkes, J. 2012, ‘What is public relations?’, in A. Theaker (ed.) The Public Relations Handbook, 4th
edn., Oxford, Routledge.
Gaber, I. 2000, ‘Government by spin: an analysis of the process’, Media, Culture & Society, vol.
22, pp 507-518.
Grattan, M. 1998, ‘The Politics of Spin’, Australian Studies in Journalism, vol. 7, pp. 32-45.
Hughes, C. and Wintour, P. 1993, Labour Rebuilt: The new model party, London, Fourth Estate.
Kirchoff, S. M. 2011, ‘The U.S. Newspaper Industry in Transition’, Journal of Current Issues in Media
and Telecommunications, vol. 2, issue 1, pp. 27-51.
Miller, D. and Dinan, W. 2000, ‘The Rise of the PR Industry in Britain, 1979-98’, European Journal of
Communication, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 5-35.
Moloney, K. 2001, ‘The rise and fall of spin: Changes of fashion in the presentation of UK politics’,
Journal of Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 124-135.
Sanders, K. (2009) Communicating Government, in: Communicating Politics in the Twenty-First
Century, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, Hampshire, pp. 73-91.
Ward, I. (2003) “An Australian PR state?” Australian Journal of Communication, vol. 30, no. 1, pp.

similar documents