COMMENT: EDITORIAL; Spinning tales of bogeymen’

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.

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

principle.



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.



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