Archive for November, 2008

PR Review paper on Propaganda and PR

Posted on November 28, 2008. Filed under: Papers | Tags: , |

Does the EU need a propaganda watchdog like the US Institute of Propaganda Analysis to strengthen its democratic civil society and free markets?

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Whistleblowers conference

Posted on November 26, 2008. Filed under: Conference reports |

Excellent conference last Friday at what used to be the London College of Printing (now London College of Communication) where I started teaching in 1990 on a course that had previously been titled Publicity and Packaging, showing its roots, but which became PR and Media relations in various guises. I’ll never forget the realisation that whereas I knew exactly what to do on my first day at the previous job (Information Officer at the TUC) when Peter Snow rang from Newsnight for a comment, I had no idea how to begin to plan a class, run a class, deal with students, teach. I had to deconstruct all my practical skills to work out how I knew what to say to Peter Snow – all the media knowledge, news awareness, press office function and role knowledge that preceded that call. Hard work.

Anyway, back to Friday – conference on ‘Whistleblowers and the Ethics of Scandal, organised by Institute of Communication Ethics (see links) run by Richard Keeble of Lincoln and Fiona Thompson of Leeds, Trinity and All Saints. Key note speakers included Simon Goldsworthy of Westminster on how PRs and journalists engage with each other through mirrored idealism of self and demonisation of other, noting that the PR sector currently employs more than journalism and detailing PR tricks for minimising or managing scandals in the ‘information market place’. Excellent phrase (can’t remember whose) for the trading that goes on between pressrooms and newsrooms – I remembered all the scams from my press office days, though we were less likely to threaten legal action to stifle a story than launch a major enquiry.

Michael Ford spoke about media victimisation of gay clergy in the 1980s, the most vivid example being that of the priest who fell apart when the (hostile) media attention went away – an illustration of an emerging theme of fragmentation of the self for media consumption.

Kate Omenugha came from Nigeria to explore the recent ‘Madam Speaker’ scandal, suggesting that the exposure of public officers in corruption scandals is now becoming a tactic in political struggles, making the ethics of scandals extremely complex and contradictory.

My friend and colleague Kevin Moloney gave a vivid, personal contribution about the ethics of being a trouble maker – as a retiring academic and trade union leader, Kevin has created trouble both in the field of PR and in the workplace and provided thoughtful examples of what he called ‘ethical unease’, a phrase I shall probably steal as it describes some of my own conflicts as a practitioner in the 1980s when I was both a trade union leader (Chair of Camden Nalgo) and a press officer for the Council. Some of the tensions of those years provide energy and material for reflection today and in my thesis I hope to cite such examples of ‘ethical unease’.

Alan Lane talked about PR and accountability, suggesting that as PRs take their longed-for places in the boardroom they may also have to accept responsibility for some of the decisions they participate in ans then promote – such as recent financial scandals. Will the courts fill up with PR practitioners?

David Leigh of the Guardian and World in Action fame spoke entertainingly about investigative journalism and the ethics involved – including the decision to ‘outsource’ a sex scandal to one of the tabloids during one major political/financial investigation to undermine the target without getting tangled in further litigation. The increasing reliance of journalists on pre-packaged information was also discussed.

The contribution I found most stimulating was from Karen Sanders who explored the idea of scapegoating and the ‘journalism of outrage’ in the ‘mediapolis’. Concepts of sin eaters, outcasts, and the ways in which social groups bond against Others chimed with my own interests in the Shadow and echoed the theme of fragmentation and commodification of Self for media feasts – I intend to read more of Karen’s writing as her presentation was provocative, speculative and assured.

Richard Keeble will be editing the above proceedings into a special edition of Ethical Space in the New Year.

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You what?? Wrestling hermeneutics…. (#1)

Posted on November 13, 2008. Filed under: main themes | Tags: |

Having decided to take a hermeneutic (an hermeneutic?) approach, I’ve been trying to find out what that, hmm, actually means.  Now I discover that a word I had barely bumped into is a seething repetoire of opinions, conflict, schools, approaches…. a door I hadn’t noticed opens on to Heathrow’s Terminal 5, crowded, badly organised, flying in all directions.

So am I doing historical, critical, post-critical, depth, Marxist, linguistic hermeneutics or some other variety? Am I closer to Gadamer, Habermas, Riceour or Heidegger? Good questions. I’ve been advised that I don’t need too much detail at this level, but I find it hard to explain things I don’t really understand – I can hear the ice creaking as I skate.

So why choose hermeneutics at all? Because it’s so LOVELY. Both content and form, a philosophy and (sort of) a methodology. It’s (as I understand it so far) a philosophy of understanding, the goal, process and means of sharing meaning between human beings insofaras that is possible across time and culture. Gadamer says we search for the ‘fusion of horizons’, where we can see the Other’s perspective, which, of course,  like our own, is always shifting. It’s about become aware of the researcher’s pre-judgements, our own cultural and personal frameworks and by acknowledging them, accept that they are not universal. And in accepting that my point of view is not everyone’s, I can come to see what we do have in common, the places where conversation might be richest. It’s about dialogue, not the monologue of science or the dialectic of Hegel – no one need win the conversation, the only goal is understanding…

More follows soon..….

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