Sunday, 17 October 2010

Don't blame the PR spinners - the people who help journalists con you

When the five mainland capital city Murdoch Sunday newspapers run their own state based version of the same story it's fair enough to call it a fair dinkum News Limited campaign. So we can expect to read more about the danger to democracy from the continued growth of the public relations arms of governments. Spinning, the Sundays assure us, costs taxpayers across the nation at least $250 million a year with federal, state and territory governments employing 3000 media advisers
The Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun's double page spread
The Sydney Sunday Telegraph's single page version
The main aim of this propaganda army, thundered the Herald Sun editorial, was to attempt to control the message that voters hear. "Political spin is just propaganda and manipulation by another name."
What was not acknowledged by the editorial writer was that public relations practitioners can only succeed with their black arts if the media lets them. Without journalists aiding and abetting spin, whether of the government inspired or any other kind, it would simply disappear into the ether.
That it doesn't disappear, but is in truth the staple diet of a complacent media, was shown by research findings published earlier this year.
Today Crikey launches an investigation six months in the making. Spinning the Media is an investigation in conjunction with the University of Technology (UTS) Sydney into the role PR plays in making the media.
Under UTS’ Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) head Wendy Bacon (a Walkley Award-winning investigative journalist herself…) more than 40 students have got up close and personal with the sticky end of the spin cycle. They’ve had to analyse, critique, question and then pick up the phone to ask the hard questions of the media and its reliance on public relations to drive news.
Hard questions, because this is what came out in the wash: after analysing a five-day working week in the media, across 10 hard-copy papers, ACIJ and Crikey found that nearly 55% of stories analysed were driven by some form of public relations. The Daily Telegraph came out on top of the league ladder with 70% of stories analysed triggered by public relations. The Sydney Morning Herald gets the wooden spoon with (only) 42% PR-driven stories for that week..
The whole Spinning the Media series is well worth a read but this couple of tables give the flavour of why this Murdoch Sunday tabloid campaign rings just a little bit hollow.

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