Wednesday, March 24, 2004

And it says here we should be proud that we are free. And our free press reflects our democracy.

Are you ready with the rotten fruit?

I have an admission to make.

I work in public relations. I am a spin doctor.

There. I said it.

On a grand scale of hate figures we are number one with a bullet. We've elbowed aside estate agents and lawyers and we're gone straight in at the top of the charts.

If I may, however, I will try and put together a reasoned defence for my occupation.

I think the best way to do this is to give you my thoughts on what PR should be. Basically, as I see it, PR, in it's purest form should be the little angel on the company's shoulder. To balance this - the little devil is the financial director.

The little devil says:

"The cheapest and most profitable way to get rid of that oil platform is to simply sink it in the North Sea. Sod the chemicals it carries and sod any damage it will do to aquatic life. But think of the money we will save. Our shareholders will be happy."

The little angel says:

"If we dump that platform in the North Sea what are Greenpeace going to say? What are our consumers going to say? What if there is an organised campaign against our company? How much is that going to cost us? Can we afford to lose that much business. Won't our brand be damaged forever if we behave like this?"

Our work should go hand in hand with consumers. It's been said that, as individuals, the only real global power we have is an consumers. Consumers forced McDonalds to become more eco-friendly. Consumers forced Starbucks to stock Fair Trade coffee. Consumers forced Adidas to put in place a code of conduct that applied to the employment of sweatshop workers.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not a fan of any of these businesses. But the fact remains that organised campaigns have made them adjust their ways for the better. Even if changes are minimal and have been made in order to safeguard profits.

You can bet, however, that the person inside these organisations ,who will have been key in instigating these changes, will be the head of PR.

Then we come to the political spin doctors like Mr Alastair Campbell. As much as I dislike the man, I do have a certain understanding of what he is about.

Firstly, let me tell you this: I have no problem with idea of political spin. For me that is what democracy is about. You present your achievements and your strengths in the best light possible.

Note: This is not the same as lying which is always indefenceable.

Just as the accused is allowed a defence lawyer, any person or organisation in the public eye, needs PR advice. This includes the Government.

That does not mean that newspapers, or the people, should swallow 100% of the spin. It is there to be shot down. That is the media's job just as much as it is the oppositions.

Of course, you can argue that the BBC tried to do this but was stopped by Hutton. I would agree that, in this, instance Campbell and the Government's actions were undefenceable. But imagine if the same, 99%-true allegations, appeared in every paper. Who is going to stop them? Could Campbell fight them all?

It can also be argued that the whole Kelly charade was carried out simply to deflect from the real issue ie that Iraq does not have any weapons of mass destruction and that we entered into a war on false pretences. Again, the newspapers should never have been stupid enough to be sidetracked by Hutton to the extent they, for the time being at least, lost sight of the bigger picture.

In the end, Campbell's pursuit of the BBC did neither him nor his employers any credit. He may have got his way with Hutton but the real damage to the Labour Government was far greater than if he had let the original story slide.

So why do newspapers let politicians get away with it?

Well, there are a number of reasons. Firstly they are way understaffed. Cost cutting over the years has lead to fewer journalists. At the same time, papers have got thicker. The best investigative stories traditionally arrived with the Sunday papers. Now, with fewer staff, journalists at weekly papers have to fill a hundred and one different supplements.

When Greg Palast broke the story of the fixing of the US election in Florida he complained that the US media ignored the story. Why? Well apart from the obvious political pressures they were under, they simply didn't have the manpower to investigate and prove the story for themselves. Instead they rang up Bush's campaign office, who obviously denied everything, so they dropped the story. Far better, in their eyes, to wait for a public enquiry or the like, then they could simply report the findings without fear of prosecution.

The same scenario is currently being played out with controversies surrounding 911.

Proving a story, takes time and investment.

Then, of course, there are the political pressures from the owners.

To add to this there is the real fear that if you don't tow the party line you will be cut off from those non-attributable briefings and will be denied access to the party movers and shakers forever. This is also why Sky's touchline reporter doesn't ask Alex Ferguson why he's such a miserable, cheating bastard.

I believe I read somewhere that if you add up all the stories filed day by day, 70% are from press releases. I know, from my own experience, that when I first joined this profession journalists hated us, now they rely on us to fill their pages.

That is why we must turn in greater numbers to the Internet for our information. We should stop trusting commercial news providers. They have their own agendas and in this day and age investigative journalism is not a viable option for the big papers. Even TV does it better.

Look instead to Chomsky, Pilger, Palast, Moore and Vidal. There is plenty of information out there and there is obviously a huge demand for it.

So don't blame the spin doctors. Spin is part of the democracy, just as much as the press are. Spin is not a new phenomenon, it is as old as democracy itself. If you want someone to blame then blame the media for swallowing the spin.

You wouldn't expect the prosecuting lawyer to say:"Well if the defence says he's innocent that's good enough for me".

Finally I wanted to add that just because I defend a government's right to spin it doesn't mean to say I like it. I can understand why they do it but I also reserve the right to hate them for it. But what is certain is that they only do it because they can get away with it. If the newspapers are unwilling or unable to see past it, then we, as individuals, have to do it for ourselves.

Okay - these are my excuses. Now let the pelting begin.

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.