Member Insights: How to reduce the influence of public relations experts on our democracy

15 Jul Member Insights: How to reduce the influence of public relations experts on our democracy

By Environment & Social Justice Working Group Leader, Kim Shore.

Public relations experts are influencing the media landscape and public opinion. 

This week, the Environment & Social Justice Working Group hosted Craig Little, Senior Consultant at Currie Communications. He opened by saying a key funder of the UK leave campaign — Alan Banks — publicly stated that facts were not going to win the campaign, you have to connect with people “emotionally”, and sometimes that’s easier without the facts. To quote Banks himself: “It’s the Trump success.”

The UK leave campaign was heavy on deception — or at the very least, blurring the truth — and it was an unstoppable viral campaign with an intention to use misinformed opinions of the masses to change the course of history.

People who sell deception are unapologetically misleading the public to do things against their own interest, with big ramifications for our countries. This is happening. Everyday.

Political campaigns are tapping into a public sentiment aggrieved by inequality and suspicious of big institutions and elite. Public relations and media firms exploit sentiment by selling false truths — advancing ulterior motives by selling false hopes.

And populist sentiment is more easily exploited today because the media landscape geared towards an audience increasingly short attention spans, curated newsfeeds of oversimplified messages and readerships that read what confirms their own bias, said Craig.

People are less discerning than ever before, passively taking in information rather than critically reading news. “the only day where people critically read the news is April Fool’s Day.”

There are many in public relations who know how to game the system and tap into popular sentiments and exploit this new media landscape. They follow a few simple rules.

1) If you have to bet, always bet on self-interest first,

2) Say it loud enough and often enough and people will believe it, and

3) It’s better to be first and wrong than second and right.

These doctrines are creating a toxic and ill-informed level of news material.

At an industry level, private media companies will say that they have to focus on clicks and sales rather than quality to remain commercially strong. So what is the solution?

At a public level, we should be proud of our ABC and SBS. These are publicly owned independent media agencies that have strong charters of responsibilities, able to focus on quality and holding power accountable to inform the public and find truth, rather than just pursue revenue. These institutions are an invaluable part of our democracy.

For readers, let’s try read the paper like it is always April Fool’s Day.