Between mediatisation and politicization: The changing role and position of Whitehall press officers in the age of political spin

Ruth Garland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Despite widespread critiques of ‘political spin’, the way governments engage with the mass media has attracted relatively little empirical attention, despite its “increasing centrality to democratic governance” (Moore, 2006, p11; K Sanders, 2011). Recent studies of northern European public bureaucracies’ responses to mediatisation from within have identified tensions between bureaucratic and media logic and values (Figenschou and Thorbjornsrud, 2015; Fredriksson et al., 2015). This supports wider claims that the traditional dividing line between government information and political propaganda has come under increasing pressure as a higher premium is placed on persuasion by both journalists and politicians battling for public attention (Foster, 2005; Kunelius and Reunanen, 2012). The arrival of Labour in 1997 after 18 years in opposition was a watershed for UK government communications, allowing the government to reconfigure its official information service in line with the party political imperative to deploy strategic communications as a defence against the new “media-driven ‘name, blame and shame’ environment”(Lindquist & Rasmussen, 2012). PR, in government as elsewhere, has grown in scale, scope and status to become “a form of work that is increasingly central to economic and cultural life due to the power and influence it commands” (Edwards, 2011; Miller, 2008). However, within the system of executive self-regulation of government publicity, civil servants who specialise in media relations must negotiate between the need to inform citizens about the government’s programme, and, 2 demands by ministers to use privileged information to secure and maintain personal and party advantage in the struggle for power. Taking 1997 as a turning point, and through the voices of the actors who negotiate government news – mainly press officers, but also journalists and special advisers - this paper examines the changing role and position of Whitehall press officers in what has become known as the age of political spin, finding a profound and lasting change in the rules of engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-189
Number of pages18
JournalPublic Relations Inquiry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2017


  • government, mediatisation, political spin, public relations, United Kingdom


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