COMMENT: EDITORIAL; Stand up for spin doctors

In the end, this week’s much hyped Panorama on spin doctors was distinctly thin on evidence that these ‘dark forces’ were a malign influence on either politicians or the media - although it did highlight the closeness of the relationship between the three sides.

In the end, this week’s much hyped Panorama on spin doctors was

distinctly thin on evidence that these ‘dark forces’ were a malign

influence on either politicians or the media - although it did highlight

the closeness of the relationship between the three sides.



Occasionally a journalist said they felt ‘used’, but most conceded that

they in turn were ‘using’ their sources to get a good story. Meanwhile

much was made of Labour leader Tony Blair asking a boring question in

Parliament so as not to upstage his own ‘Road to the Manifesto’ press

conference. But if that sensible piece of PR planning is the worst crime

that can be blamed on spin doctors then the nation’s voters can sleep

easy in their beds.



The other main charge was that spin doctors were bullies in their

dealings with political journalists. We were shown a BBC journalist

receiving a dressing down by phone, during which there was a bit of mild

sabre rattling on both sides. The journalist seemed irritated but

relatively unconcerned, as well he might. The blunt instruments of

threat and bluster sometimes deployed by PR folk can be annoying. But

show us a journalist who has never had a such a call, and we’ll show you

a reporter who has never written anything other than a regurgitated

press release. (Although even that is no guarantee that someone won’t

get upset.)



By the end, Panorama seemed to have wavered in its crusade. Almost the

last word was given to ITN’s political editor Michael Brunson who

scornfully dismissed the image of political journalists waiting

unquestioningly to ‘fill their notebooks at dictation speed’ with the

outpourings of spin doctors.



The truth of the matter is that journalists and spin doctors need each

other. Neither side is particularly ill served by this process, although

one or other may sometimes feel slightly bruised by the encounter.



The media may find spin distasteful but sensible journalists will

recognise that they helped to create it,. The tougher, more hungry media

that has evolved over the past few decades has helped produce a need for

spin doctors who can argue their side’s case more stridently.



Journalists pride themselves on being tough minded and persistent. Why

should they expect any less from those they seek to write about? Or as

one senior journalist turned corporate PR man succinctly put it on the

phone to PR Week this week: ‘Bollocks to those journalists who expect us

all to be either middle-aged men in bow ties or silly girls with Alice

bands offering them gin and tonics.’



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