A word on spin

For those of you who have been reading this blog awhile, you will know my position on political ‘spin’ but for those who don’t here is a primer (I got a couple of emails yesterday saying that the role of communications officers in government departments is to put a positive spin on the issues – just like in the private sector).

I think there is a big difference between official commentary from government officials and the political spin of parties and individual politicians and I think the line is becoming increasingly blurred in New Brunswick.

When a political party or a politican wants to talk up all the great things they have done for New Brunswick, fill your boots. You can fill that up so high that voters across the province will be able to smell it. Fine. But when a government department or Minister is commenting officially on an issue of the day, they have a duty (in my opinion) to give people the unvarished, unspun reality of the situation.

For example. Former Finance Minister Jeannot Volpe used to issue a Report Card on the state of the New Brunswick economy. As you know from my posts on this report card, it was nothing more than a masterful example of political spin. They cherry picked a few well massaged statistics and served those up as the ‘report card’ to New Brunswickers. The same thing, I believe, happens with this monthly labour market report. The official government press release will literally exclude very important data because it might look ‘bad’. The comparisons are always spun (year over year or month over month, or YTD, or whatever) to make the current government look good and whomever is reading those press releases (the media mostly) do not get a true picture.

Why does it matter?

What if the federal Finance Minister, in his official role as Minister, rolled out a masterful spin document and sent deeply wrong signals to the financial markets? That would be crazy. In my opinion the same thing holds in a provincial setting. The stakes aren’t the same but the obligation is the same.

I would suggest that the Liberal Party of New Brunswick issue a press release every month talking up the great success of the government’s job creation but the official release coming out of the department (again, in my opinion) should be far more biased towards the true picture of things.

And I won’t get into it too much here but I have also commented in great detail on the difference between an ‘internal’ audience and an ‘external’ audience. A spin doctor once told me this. We need to have the government firing out positive messages across the board not to discourage investment.

Again, to an external audience when giving a speech a Minister wants to put the ‘sales’ pitch on. Sure. But the ‘sales’ pitch doesn’t have to be turned on the internal audience where people really need to know what is going on.

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0 Responses to A word on spin

  1. mikel says:

    I think you said it all, I’d just like to add that this is NOT like the ‘private sector’, which is MUCH more open than that. In the private industry its like the story from musicians about music company executives-when a band is doing good its always ‘we’, but when its bad, then its ‘you’. When its bad the blame is always pointed somewhere else, you can use the UPM posting I added as an example. It’s always ‘external forces’ like energy, currency, and markets that are at fault, unless its all good news, then its the brilliance of the company executives.

    So look at the UPM example, while they point out the ‘bad news’ VERY graphically, they also point out exactly how they plan to counter it-specifically by closing the Miramichi plant and ‘looking’ at other NB operations. Mills that are closer to markets and places that have lower or stable energy costs handle the offset from what is lost from ‘unprofitable’ mills.

    That’s pretty honest and forthright. It’s far from a ‘everything is wonderful’ communique-if it were, then typically you know a scam is going on somewhere-worldcom and Enron taught that lesson very well. In a ‘democracy’ its even MORE important that the overall picture is presented.

    The big question is WHY a government would do that. Part of that is the very real problem that there is very simply very little a government can do about it, and anything it CAN do is usually politically contentious. I suspect another reason is simply to make sure people don’t pay too much attention. It would be interesting to compare this to communications from OTHER provincial, or state or even international leaders. IF its true that this is a function of government, then one can assume that ALL parties in power do that.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great post David.

    There is an important difference between a positive spin or message of hope and selective data reporting.

    As you suggest, what is wrong with consistent data reporting with a positive spin commentary? Once again, you have correctly pointed out the data and the spin are blured.

  3. Person Place or Thing says:

    I do agree that this sort of spin interferes with the decision making of citizens – we won’t be pushing for change if we here all is well.

    On the other hand, I can’t picture how we would keep “internal messaging” internal. Any outsider doing their due diligence will for sure find the truth. Perhaps though they would anyway.

    Over all though, the government can give a message of “things will get better” without needing to lie and say they already are.