Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You cant get too much PR

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations [CIPR] has delivered a robust response to recent media commentary that has criticised the increase in the number of press officers working within government departments. The press release argues "large government departments need specialist and skilled communicators to help explain their policies" this is in response to "public demand for information and the number and range of communication channels"; true! However he latter part of their response seems on somewhat shakier ground. Civil servants must be seen to be impartial, that is an ideal certainly, and true the CIPR has supported moves to strip the Special Advisors [SpAds], such as Alistair Campbell, of the power to instruct civil servants on how and what to communicate. But the claim that this such developments have enshrined the impartiality of the civil service and the assumption that the appointment of more communication SpAds will reduce the pressure on the civil service seems highly dubious.

The majority of SpAds become temporary civil servants, as heads of communication, or at least communication advisors, they act as a conduit through which information produced by civil servants passes on route to the media and so the public. This process, which politicises all communication, means that civil servants become automatically implicated in the government spin cycle. Equally, as the SpAds are not always on the front line, and civil servants have turns of duty in manning the phones and answering queries, they must repeat the line given by the SpAd and so impartiality fails. While this is a complex problem that would be difficult to solve, and one that has evolved over several decades, the only real solution is for information to be released,with no spin whatsoever, by civil servants, and the only role for the SpAds would be to advise their minister. But this does not and cannot happen. Any ministerial statement is contested in the media, a response is developed by the SpAd, and then all communication must include the party political rebuttal. Hence more SpAds will probably mean more spin and a greater problem for civil servants keen to maintain impartiality but who de facto if not de jure end up working alongside a SpAd. Perhaps the CIPR should think again and get a real handle on the workings of the government communication machine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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