Exposed: PR's political ambition

June 12, 1998

STIRLING University researchers are mapping the scope and scale of the political public relations industries and the professional groups who staff them.

The work, led by Philip Schlesinger of Stirling's media research institute, involves examination of how the interaction between political journalists, lobbyists and their clients shapes the media and political agendas. The research takes place against the background of the rise of spin-doctoring, the politicians' art of manipulating the media to try to ensure it is "on-message".

Through case studies, the researchers aim to ascertain the impact lobbying has on media reporting, policy decisions and the wider democratic process. This, it is hoped, will "offer concrete insights into matters of contemporary political debate", say the researchers.

A central feature of the study, which is backed by the Economic and Social Research Council, is interviews with key players including journalists, lobbyists, politicians and civil servants. These interviews will help the researchers to gain knowledge of the strategies and tactics used in shaping the political agenda.

The study involves the collection and analysis of documents on how the political communications professions work. This includes material available in business and political archives.

The Stirling team, which includes Brian McNair and David Miller, is also analysing the content of political journalism in England and Scotland, based on a sample of press, radio and television coverage over a period that included last year's general election. Of particular interest to the team are issues relating to the European Union and Scottish devolution. The researchers aim to publish later this year.

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