Governmental Communication and Political Spin Political Reporting (JN513/815) REMEMBER THEY HAVE HAD SOME OF THIS MATERIAL Lecture Outline • 1. Modern Governmental Communication • 2. The PR State • 3. Spin Doctors Modern Governmental Communication • “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 Communication • 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 officers. • 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 Communication • 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 Communication • 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 Communication • 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 Communication • Labour’s communication 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 Communication • Four principle features of the Millbank model: 1. Strong central control and coordination 2. Setting the agenda and proactivity 3. Rapid and robust response 4. Import of political staffers into the government machine (Sanders 2009, pp. 80-82) Modern Governmental Communication • 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 Communication • 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 Communication • “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 Communication • Split between political and civil service communications operations. • Craig Oliver – Downing Street Director of Communications • http://www.independent.c o.uk/news/media/opinion/i an-burrell-feeling-chillaxedcamerons-media-man-maynot-be-after-ibiza-holiday8651499.html • Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communications, Cabinet Office. 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 departments; 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 party. 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 secretary. 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 – “Unimaginable”. 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 man.com/2013/10/da mian-mcbride-powertrip-book-bastard • http://www.youtube.c om/watch?v=p6zh0n80 nYI 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 practiced. 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. References • • • • • • • • • • • 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. 25-42.