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.