Spinning Democracy - Rossport and elsewhere


The Irish government’s explicit support for Shell’s proposed development in Rossport, against the demands and wishes of a large proportion of the locally affected community, exemplifies not only the highly organised and funded public relation strategy that Shell and its partners have used. It also highlights the massive democratic deficit in this country. In a broader sense corporate Public Relations, and it’s close links to government, is perhaps one of the most potent factors in curtailing meaningful democracy.

PR companies hired to ‘troubleshoot’ pesky communities with bribe and slur tactics that Cromwell would be proud of. They also use their closely forged links with privately owned mass media and political ‘leaders’ to mount strategic campaigns to influence the direction of policies which affect us all, for the benefit of their clients. By their very nature the practices of PR companies, in eroding what little democracy we have, is one of the least examined and understood issues today.

The only time we get to have any input into the structures of ‘democracy’ in this country, is a five minute spell in the voting booth once every few of years. However, the captains of industry (the folks who make their money from our work) have unparallel access to our elected representatives. Across all sectors, corporate PR, working for big business, lobby governments for their gain, and our collective detriment.

Whether it’s pushing for public/private partnerships, introducing competition into our health system (read profiting from the sick) or putting the spin on laying off workers, corporate PR will do the (shite)talking for you. This isn’t about conspiracy though. It’s just the way things our done in today’s democracy. PR consultants offer businesses access to Ministers in return for cash. It might be couched in more subtle terms on their websites but that’s what it amounts to.

One of the largest Irish PR consultancies is MRPA Kinman. They offer unrivalled “communications with the political and regulatory system”, as well as crisis management for “industrial accidents, closures / redundancies and community relations issues”. In reality they will make sure your business proposals get to the top of the pile, and discussed over dinner, and if some of your pesky workers have fallen, been crushed, or simply just cost too much MRPA Kinman will make sure that the smell of roses doesn’t fade at all. They will also file stories to the media spinning against local communities should the need arise.

It’s pretty interesting to look at who the head honchos are. The Managing Director is Ray Gordon, who for five years was a spokesperson for the Progressive Democrat’s. Another director, Stephen O’Byrnes, was policy director of the PD’s. This company works for many large pharma-chemical giants and as such tries to influence public health policy.

One wonders what influence the company’s director Brian Geoghegan brings to bear considering he is married PD leader and Tanaiste Mary Harney, our dearly loved minister for health. Formerly head of the employers’ outfit, IBEC, Brian, like the other folks mentioned, use their close ‘connections’ with current Ministers to skew government policies in favour of their clients.

This is but one example of how PR companies have more input into policy development that most of us put together. They are also complicit in attempting to stamp out the legitimate and much needed public resistance to the commodification of democracy. It is vital for activists, concerned communities, and all those that value the idea and realisation in practice, of real democracy, to understand the role that corporate PR plays in misrepresenting truths to the public at large, whilst simultaneously distorting decision making processes by having unparalleled access to our ‘elected representatives’.

Check out http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/item.shtml?x=51961 for more reading on corporate PR strategies against communities in struggle.

From Workers Solidarity 93, Sept/Oct 2006

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