Thursday, July 29, 2004

Patriot game, media shame

Good column by Lawrence Martin in today's Globe and Mail, on the complete breakdown of American journalism during White House's campaign to paint the Iraqi dictatorship as a mortal danger for Western Civilization.

As journalists have been duped so often, admittedly duped, how can anyone say the media system in America is working? In times of foreign crises, the press doesn't report. It is politically exploited. It is supposed to reflect truth and reality but, by treating politically motivated White House words with face-value reverence, it is distorting that truth and reality and succumbing to patriot games.
Well said.

The PR value of drinkable water

Médecins sans frontières, the Nobel-prize group of doctors offering their services to troubled areas around the world, has decided to pull out of Afghanistan after 24 years of continuous work, joining the chorus of independent help groups saying the behaviour of United States troops is turning aid workers into targets.

American troops and others (including our own Canadian troops) have been busy building schools, repairing roads and purifying water, hence blurring the line between soldiers (bad guys with guns who shoot people and ride in armoured personnel carriers) and aid workers (good guys with shovels riding in pick-up trucks). Aid workers have been noticing that the more soldiers do reconstruction work, the more aid workers get shot at. Just a month ago, five Médecins sans frontières volunteers were killed in an ambush.

So what's going on here? Is the campaign by occupation forces to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people - occupation PR - pushing aid agencies out? Since the military is doing the job, should the aid agencies even be there?

The potential benefits of rebuilding a country's infrastructure - or build it from the ground up as is largely the case in Afghanistan - is deemed worth the enormous manpower necessary. If in the bargain people get clean water and a roof over their heads, everyone's a winner right?

Not quite.

If the military is good at building things, they're no experts at giving aid, as last year's food distribution disaster in Southern Iraq showed. How to effectively feed a population while preventing profiteering is just not part of military training.

Actually, feeding people and winning acceptance for the occupation may not even be the main objective of the occupation forces. Aid workers indicated one reason they were being confused for military personnel is the troops have been distributing leaflets implying only those who gave information on guerrillas would receive assistance.

Winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people? Bullshit. Blackmail has never been a public relations tool.

So in the end, the American "food for snitches" intelligence-gathering operation is pushing out legitimate humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan. I'm sure the command staff is rejoicing to see all those independent observers leave.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Is the good doctor sick?

Curious...

The Ottawa Citizen ran a large piece on the possible effects of climate change on Sunday. A full three pages with illustrations, about the possibility of catastrophic cooling for Northeastern America.

The sharpshooters Big Oil is paying to reply to that kind of press are usually assaulting the Letter to the Editor section (and readers' intelligence) within 24 hours. I fully expected to see a letter signed Tim Ball, Doctor of Meteorology, in the morning paper. No doctor.

If any of you sees Doctor Ball, could you tell him to please get off his patio chair and back to work? Keeping the public confused is a full-time job.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Great with freedom fries!

Something I found on Warren Kinsella's blog: American patriotic ketchup.

I'm speechless.
 

Friday, July 16, 2004

On the use of puppets

It was encouraging to read about transparency, public relations ethics and the insidiousness of spin at various points of this PR Blog Week. On this forum as in others, one gets the feeling public relations professionals are trying to get the industry moving toward new paradigms and values.
 
The calls for change are coming not a moment too soon.
 
Ninety years after Ivy Lee was labelled a “professional liar” for saving the Rockefeller’s reputation following the Ludlow Massacre, public relations professionals are still being seen as one of the untrustworthiest categories of human beings. The fact that famous entertainers and talk radio hosts score even lower on the Public relation Society of America’s National Credibility Index does little to make our 42nd (on 44!) place look better.
 
So after the first century of modern PR, our clients and employers recognize us as valuable members of the team, but the public thinks we’re despicable liars. How about starting the second century with a little public awareness campaign to correct public perceptions and clean up our image a little, as some proposed in other forums? Wouldn’t that improve our professional prospects, or at least our social life?
 
Perhaps, but we have to clean up our act a little if that fragile veneer of respectability is to stick. If not, we’ll have to continue avoiding the words “public relations” when future in-laws ask: “So, what it is that you do?”
 
The ever-present “spin”, mostly the look-at-the-bright-side variety, is probably what most people would complain about. As Jim Horton mentioned earlier this week, there’s “too damn much of it.” Cutting down on spin won’t be easy though, in part because the line between “a good pitch” and a bad spin can be tricky at times, and being recognized as a good spin doctor is a point of pride in some sectors of the profession.
 
I’m actually more concerned with the increasing awareness among the public that PR operations make massive use of seemingly independent groups or experts to bolster the credibility of dubious claims. The practice of putting together front groups as part of “astroturf” campaigns and buying the services of researchers with scientific credentials is now so widespread that it’s entirely possible most people interviewed as experts by the media are being fed their lines by a major PR firm.
 
Fairly few PR outfits and departments can summon the resources and ruthlessness necessary to use these tactics, but they’re having a large impact. On a global level, examples include climate change issues, genetically altered foods and foreign policy.
 
If they are allowed to continue, these practices might have lasting negative effects on academics and legitimate NGOs when large segments of the public realize the media makes little efforts to separate independent voices from PR puppets. Part of the blame will be placed at the door of some of the world’s largest communications firms, especially those that associate themselves with a controversial message for a long period. When people get sick, or global temperatures rise, or the earth doesn’t stop turning, inquiries will be made to learn why so many experts said were so sure about something that turned out being false.  In some cases, the link between the faulty message, PR firms and their clients will be easy to follow.
 
Something to keep in mind in the ongoing discussions on establishing standards for public relations.

Back from the grave

Hi everyone.
 
I’m back to blogging after a few weeks of intense work, being sick and some rather demanding extra-professional activities.
 
The Global PR Blog Week 1.0 is turning out to be a very interesting event, with PR pros with various backgrounds offering advice and experiences. I'll file my own contribution later today.
 
Some posters put in extra effort and conducted interviews, including one with Jay Rozen on participatory journalism and transparency. Read all the way to the bottom: the reactions to the interview are nearly as interresting as Rozen’s comments.

Thanks to those who wrote to offer comments on the blog. Feel free to use the Comments function, people.