Under increasing pressures of ‘pagination and productivity’ (Lewis, et al., 2008, p. 1), journalists are progressively becoming reliant on news sources which come directly from Public Relations (PR) initiatives. Indeed, journalists’ ‘reliance on these news sources is extensive and raises significant questions concerning claims to journalistic independence from UK news media’ (Lewis, et al., 2008, p. 1). As pressures on journalists grow, we are seeing a ‘strange, alarming and generally unnoticed development’, whereby ‘journalists are pumping out stories without checking them’ (Davies, 2009, p. 51) and surrendering their roles as ‘arbiters of the truth’ (Robinson, 2018, p. 20).
The quality and independence of journalists’ output has recently come into question as the 24-hour news cycle has placed increasing importance on the need to ‘get the story up as fast as we can’ (Davies, 2009, p. 71) despite the ‘relatively static number of journalists’ (Lewis, et al., 2008, p. 1).
Two of the most concerning factions of PR reliance are politics and commerce. Firstly, the concern that ‘persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government’ (Miller & Dinan, 2007, p. 11). This is particularly concerning when considering the government’s role in agenda setting. Essentially, the verbatim use of government spin ensures that the press is simply acting as a mouthpiece for the government; communicating on their behalf with passive stenography. This has become apparent in the recent COVID-19 pandemic in the UK where, it is alleged, the ‘government no longer exists, in its place we have a PR machine’ (Benn, 2020). Here, The New European’s report, discusses how ‘we are not being governed, we are being marketed to’, as the government continue to ‘leak’ bits of ‘vague good news, some morsel of stiff-upper-lipped happy talk, such as might be sufficient to get the word ‘HURRAH’ to appear on the front page of the Daily Express’ (Benn, 2020). This, so-called, marketing of vague good-news may be the government’s attempt to ‘align private and public interests’ (Miller & Dinan, 2007, p. 17) in their desperation to revive the economy; even at the expensive of the nation’s health. This alignment, though, can only occur through ‘manipulation, deceit and ideology’ (Miller & Dinan, 2007, p. 17).
Secondly, is corporate ‘elite-to-elite spin which has had consequences for society and the economy that are just as important as political PR’ (Davis, 2007, p. 212). One example of this is ‘greenwashing’, whereby a corporation claims to be environmentally friendly for good PR, without actually doing any environmentally friendly work. Examples include Ryanair, which was admonished for ‘claiming it was the UK’s lowest emissions airline’ despite the fact that the ‘statistics it used failed to include many rival airlines’ (Dean, 2020) and the data was nine years-old. In addition, BMW had an advert banned for claiming that one of their cars was ‘zero emissions’ and that purchasers would be ‘giving back to the environment’ (Dean, 2020).
Some scholars, though, debate whether the news industry’s new reliance on public relations really matters. This rather depends on what news corporations feel their audience want – are they purely interested in salacious gossip and entertainment, or do they want hard-hitting, critical news? In a scene from the political satire The Thick Of It, whilst discussing the formation of a focus group, one political advisor asserts that the public “don’t know what they think, or they just go around nodding to the last opinion they heard”. This makes one wonder just how pervasive this attitude is among the elite classes of Fleet Street. Perhaps, news organisations now feel that they can ‘recycle ignorance’ (Davies, 2009, p. 73) because of their sheep-like audience.
Benn, M., 2020. How our government was replaced by a PR agency. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/brexit-news/mitch-benn-on-unclear-messaging-from-the-government-82888
[Accessed 5 November 2020].
Davies, N., 2009. Flat Earth News. 1st ed. London: Vintage.
Davis, A., 2007. Spinning Money: Corporate Public Relations and the London Stock Exchange. In: W. Dinan & D. Miller, eds. Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy: Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy. London: Pluto Press, pp. 212-225.
Dean, B., 2020. The five: ads banned for greenwashing. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/feb/09/the-five-ads-banned-for-greenwashing
[Accessed 5 November 2020].
Lewis, J., Wiiliams, A. & Franklin, B., 2008. A COMPROMISED FOURTH ESTATE? UK news journalism, public relations and news sources. Journalism Studies, IX(1), pp. 1-20.
Miller, D. & Dinan, W., 2007. Public Relations and the Subversion of Democracy. In: W. Dinan & D. Miller, eds. Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy: Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy. London: Pluto Press, pp. 11-20.