The NOP poll confirms it. Most people have not even heard of the term
spin doctor. All the newsprint and broadcast time that has been devoted
to tracking the insidious growth of these dark forces in modern politics
does not appear to reflect, or have caused, any great public concern.
Of those who recognise the term, just over half think the spin doctor’s
job is to ‘manipulate the media and put the best gloss on things for the
party’, while a third think they advise on presentation. Very few seem
to agree with Clare Short’s view that spin doctors are increasingly
involved in making or formulating party policy. And while 58 per cent of
people of those who understand the term think politics would be ‘better
off without them’, this actually represents less than 20 per cent of the
total number surveyed.
So are spin doctors really the bogeymen they are made out to be? The
journalists replying to this week’s Big Question give a measured
response, but there are others who regularly complain of spin doctors’
heavy-handed tactics. The possibility that journalists could just ignore
or politely refuse such advances seems to have eluded them.
Most journalists, when exposed to the hard sell, go from healthy
scepticism to outright cynicism in a nanosecond. And browbeating is
rarely an effective media relations tactic - as Alastair Campbell
famously discovered when he tried to bluster the BBC into putting Tony
Blair above the OJ Simpson verdict in the running order last year.
The other frequent complaint is that spin doctors have a tendency to
only to present one side of the case. Well, of course they do. That’s
their job. You wouldn’t expect them to present a balanced view any more
than you would expect Procter & Gamble to praise Persil, or Coke to
admit to the joys of blue Pepsi.
It is the journalist’s job to sift what truth they can from these
opposing interpretations. There is nothing unusual here. Our entire
legal and political system is based on just such an adversarial system.
To question the right to spin, you have to question that fundamental
In any case, it is not in the spin doctor’s interest to undermine the
independence of the media. The power of media relations lies in the very
fact that the message has been weighed and filtered by an independent
third party. Assert too much control over that process and you weaken
its effectiveness. The public may not recognise spin doctors but they
can spot propaganda and puff a mile off.