Issues in Public Relations – Political PR

Posted on March 26, 2010


Political PR has undermined public trust in politicians and is the single biggest threat to our democratic health.

“He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.” Joseph Conrad, (Lord Jim, 1900.

Politics has become further mediatised as a form of public relations democracy has developed. The documentary War Spin (wrote about this documentary a few months ago) depicted the micro-managed Iraq war being fought on two fronts, one on the battlefield and one in our living rooms. We first became aware of this development with the US reporting of the Vietnam War in the 60’s and since then it has become common practice throughout the world.

Tony Blair and George Bush claimed that the war on Iraq was a war on terror and that Saddam Hussein was then still producing weapons of mass destruction. The Prime Minister said in 2002 that “the assessed intelligent has established beyond doubt…that he (Saddam Hussein) continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons”. ( We now know, that the arguments justifying the government’s decision to go to war were based on deception. In a three-month intensive inspection of Iraq by the UN no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were discovered.

The fall out from the spin relating to the Iraq war in particular has had a contagious effect tainting statements made by government officials. A skeptical public does not make for a vibrant democracy. Just last year, the Royal College of Physicians carried out a Trust in Professions’ survey and discovered that 82% of those questioned believe that politicians do not tell the truth. Out of all professions surveyed, they are the most mistrusted, even more so than last year’s least-trusted sector, journalists.

All democratically elected governments constantly claim to be open and transparent in their dealings with the public. However, there is always a temptation to conceal some unfavourable facts when it suits the government’s point of view. Government spokesmen/women are always very quick to come forward with a good news story however most people believe that when it comes to a bad news item we end up receiving selectively released information.

For example, Jo Moore, the former press secretary of Stephen Byers, sent a memo on the day of the 9/11 attacks, realizing that the public’s attention was else where, she suggested that it would be a good time to “bury” some controversial stories. This type of practice makes for a very cynical public.

It is widely agreed that a system needs to be put in place which ensures full accountability for all those involved, with a range of sanctions to deter any failings. To ensure our democratic system remains vibrant and relevant to our needs, the public must have full confidence that their elected officials will always act with the public’s interest in mind. Self-regulation has clearly failed us in the recent past and is continuing to do so.

Posted in: Political PR