23 February 2011

‘Spinning Communication’ – Vice or Virtue of Democracy?

“We believe in shaping the mind of the public!”

Is this quote slightly disturbing to you or is this exactly how you see active engagement in democracy? With our freedom of speech we created, virtually anyone can say anything about anything they want and send their message across the public. This freedom of communication allows individuals to communicate in the way that suits them best. However, it is important to question which party is distributing what kind of information, in order to understand how information is being produced, processed and distributed.

The picture below is a small visual example of how the media could potentially ‘spin’ a story, following their own agenda. In the middle we see the actual picture. Left and right we see part of the picture, both telling a completely different story.

Every organization has their own agenda they follow and practice their activities according to it. With this in mind, how can we trust anyone if distribution of information is subjective on all levels? A fellow student at university provided an excellent example:

“If there is a suicide bomber in Palestine, CNN talks about a terrorist and Al Jazeera talks about a martyr”

Two news outlets that are supposed to ‘speak for the little man’ have two different approaches in providing information, eventually shaping the mind of the public with their own set of agenda. So if the media is subjective to their activities, how could anyone criticize political agendas and ‘spin doctors’? If the media is supposed to be a ‘watch dog’ of the government, but follow their own agenda, who are we, the public, to trust? It seems that there is little objectivity in providing political information and news for the public. This leaves us with little surprise that people trust more organizations that are ‘transparent and have honest practices’.

Public Relations practitioners within politics obviously have their own agenda and communicate accordingly. PR’s are the ‘advocates for just one voice’ and communicate between themselves and the public. However, if too much power over the communication is gained, how can a democratized environment be sustained? If Alistair Campbell chooses on purpose selected journalists during a press conference talking about critical issues, is this still part of the freedom of speech we are all proud of?

The line between representing the communication between a political party and their publics, and the distribution of selective information being sent is very thin. While one is a fundamental element of democracy and freedom of speech, the other one leans towards censorship and propaganda. So if both the media and other parties have their own agenda they follow, how can information be objective? If ‘spinning’ is a soft form of propaganda (Moloney, 2006), how can this happen in our political organization? Seems like our democratic system has some big flaws in it.

Clearly, this topic of contemporary theory and issues in public relations creates more questions than answers in an area of extreme importance for the industry and democratic practices.

So who are the real ‘spin doctors’ after all? It’s a question only oneself can answer.

Davis, Anthony. Mastering Public Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.

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