EDITORIAL: Election lessons of 'spin' to learn

By the time PRWeek lands on most desks this week, the battle-buses

will stand idle, and the 2001 election will be a done deal. If the

copious polls of the last four years are anything to go by, the result

is - nationally at least - a foregone conclusion and a bitter-sweet pill

for Blair. Apathy, with which he has wrestled for most of the campaign,

looked likely to mar the outcome.

The number of people voting, at the time of going to press, looked set

to be the lowest for years. But perhaps the most serious lingering

problem to emerge from the election campaign is not just the apathy but

also the more energetic antipathy expressed by journalists and the

public for the slickness of the parties' news management.

There is a sickness of heart that can easily infect those outside the

political hot-house. The last couple of years have seen a massive focus

on news management and communication staff in the political and

corporate arena. PRWeek has already noted the rise in the number of

on-the-record briefings from corporate spokespeople in the national

press and broadcast media - and the attendant criticism that has been

levied at said spokespeople and their message delivery.

Much of the mystique that has surrounded the political manifestations of

this discipline has evaporated. From the detailed analysis of party war

rooms and rebuttal systems, to the increasing interest in who is pulling

the media strings in the City, the news management process is

increasingly being laid bare for public scrutiny and media debate.

So much so that the painstaking analysis of news management methods is

generating real fatigue not only among journalists but also among the

public; fatigue at the seeming inevitability of manipulation and anger

at the seeming collusion of much of the media with that process. One of

the key 'shockers' to have been uncovered by Channel 4's Party Crashers

programme ploy to plant undercover volunteers in the war rooms of the

key parties, was the cosy relationship that exists with selected

journalists, who can be relied on to tow the party line.

Now, to the relief of many, as election fever finally begins to subside,

the PR industry urgently needs to put as much distance as possible

between the industry and 'spin' as possible. The industry as a whole,

needs to shake off any suggestion that legitimate PR involves any

economies of truth, coercion, or attempts to block genuine dialogue with

the public - to convince a sceptical media and public that far from

being a dark art, PR is a genuine tool to promote transparency.

Following this election, defining public relations as 'spin' should be

regarded as a gross slander.

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