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Publicity and the Canadian State

Publicity and the Canadian State: Critical Communications Perspectives

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 384
  • Book Info
    Publicity and the Canadian State
    Book Description:

    Bringing together contemporary Canadian analysis by scholars in a number of fields, this collection will be a welcome new resource for academics, public relations and policy professionals, and government communicators at all levels.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6930-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction Communicating for Hegemony: The Making of the Publicity State in Canada
    (pp. 3-22)

    Taken at face value, propaganda godfather Bernays’s utopian vision of a future rampant with politico-propagandists might seem to have taken concrete form in today’s political persuaders. Many of those conversant with contemporary analyses of propaganda may dismiss Bernays’s claim (or wishful thinking) outright, even as there has been a thoughtful revival of the term as it relates to political communication (O’Shaughnessy 2004; Corner 2007; Sussman 2010).¹ However, whether one rejects the label “propaganda” or encourages it as Bernays did, we all need to be concerned about the multiple persuasive trappings of the modern publicity state and the tendency for propaganda...

  6. Part One Political Communication:: Media, State, Public

    • Introduction
      (pp. 25-26)

      This first part of the book examines the traditional political communication triad of media, state, and public as the basic ground on which we build our understanding of the publicity state. Starting in the latter years of the 20th century, as the Canadian state developed and became more complex, these three spheres also began to encompass ever more social actors – policymakers, social movements, lobbyists, independent media, pollsters, consultants – that shifted the power balance within the relationships amongst these social actors. Currently, in this changed public environment, citizens communicate on a more distanced scale with their government. Larger governments have more...

    • 1 Journalism, Corporate Media, and Democracy in the Digital Era
      (pp. 27-48)

      There is a consensus among democratic theorists, whatever their vision of democracy, that a healthy public sphere is the foundation of good democratic practice. For media theorists, following Habermas, the modern news media, at each stage of their development, have altered the nature of the public sphere. From the coffee houses of the 18th century through the emergence of daily newspapers, news services, the electronic media, and the subsequent dominance of television, each has altered the nature of the public discourse so necessary to modern liberal democracies (Fletcher 2007).¹ The complex relationship among political communication, media systems, and the political-economic...

    • 2 In Whose Interest? Government Communication and Public Accountability
      (pp. 49-69)

      In recent years, burgeoning publicity practiced by governments in Canada has been in the media spotlight, raising questions about the appropriateness of how governments communicate with the public. The scandal over a federal government promotional program involving sponsorships was dissected widely and publicly mostly between 2004 and 2006. That, and the use of public funds over several years for an ongoing advertising campaign to sell the subsequent government’s 2008 stimulus plan, speaks to the lure and potency of publicity for political parties in power. While successful publicity is intended to do its persuasive work invisibly, according to Schiller (1973) and...

    • 3 Publics without Politics: Surplus Publicity as Depoliticization
      (pp. 70-86)

      Perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from the 2010 episode during which WikiLeaks dramatically published reams of secret diplomatic cables and state documents was the candour with which the organization’s leader expressed its intentions. In an interview withTimemagazine, Julian Assange said, “It is not our goal to achieve a moretransparentsociety; it’s our goal to achieve a morejustsociety” (Stengel 2010). It came as no surprise when the architects of mainstream discourse moved swiftly and successfully to slot Assange into the various categories now routinely used for anyone who is seriously impolite to wielders of...

  7. Part Two Publicity and the State

    • Introduction
      (pp. 89-92)

      The second part of this collection examines the various practices of persuasive communication that characterize the modern publicity state. The focus here is on the shifting social relations as these practices evolve and come to dominate the political sphere, concurrently as they contribute to and reflect the material and symbolic restructuring of broader society into a consumer marketplace of ideas. A central theme in this part is how the different forms and practices that commodify the public sphere are shifting the non-commercial citizen-state relationship away from the broader public interest and into a more individualized and marketable consumer relationship in...

    • 4 The War on Ideas: From Hayek to Harper
      (pp. 93-111)

      The Fraser Institute (FI) released itsEconomic Freedom of the World Annual Reportin September 2010. This index, which the institute has published annually since 1996, purports to measure the degree to which government policies and institutions support what the FI calls economic freedom. “The cornerstones of economic freedom,” the document declares, “are personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and security of privately owned property” (Gwartney, Hall, and Lawson 2010, v). Canada rated seventh, just behind the United States and ahead of Australia. This was higher than Canada’s ranking the first year the index was published, when, under Liberal...

    • 5 The Politics of Public Opinion
      (pp. 112-131)

      Political party leaders, social movement activists, spokespersons for interest groups, journalists, government officials, and other political actors make periodic references to public opinion. Understood as the collective political will of a sovereign and deliberative people, public opinion is invoked and interpreted to support a range of political claims, preferences, and decisions among a range of political agents. Political choices are legitimated and strategic decisions are justified on the basis of public opinion data. Consistent with the principal themes of the volume, this chapter explores in detail an increasingly important commodity in the publicity state: public opinion. Through a critical elaboration...

    • 6 Taming the Untameable? Constraints and Limits on Government Advertising
      (pp. 132-150)

      Government advertising is one of the last uncharted areas of state communication. It is only when governments transcend the boundaries of appropriate advertising that we have a sense of its scope and its unchecked nature. But determining where the line of non-partisan advertising ends is not an easy task.

      In March 2011, two incidents in particular made this clear. Cheadle (2011b) wrote of the shift from the “Government of Canada” to the “Harper Government” on Web sites and other department communications. Days later, Curry (2011, A1) divulged that the government would spend $4 million to sell its Economic Action Plan,...

    • 7 Political Funding Regimes and Political Communication
      (pp. 151-171)

      There can be little political communication without money. Money is the power to spend on the communication skills and resources to fashion influential political communication. We live in a media-saturated society, where almost all political communication is forced through the conduit of the news industry, shaped by the communication potential of the Internet or compressed into phone calls and messages. Money can demand the time of people who know how to produce words and images that cause insecurity and phrases that can placate it, people who can formulate implicit arguments in the shape of images or slogans, and people who...

    • 8 Domestic Brand Politics and the Modern Publicity State
      (pp. 172-194)

      As other chapters in this collection demonstrate, the nature of political communication has changed in the era of the modern publicity state. Rather than simply providing information, the modern publicity state focuses on the promotion of its activities. Through issue definition, the modern publicity state attempts to persuade citizens of the merits of its actions in order to get society to agree on how to approach issues of the day. This has important democratic implications, as electedgovernmentsconsisting of representatives of political parties usestateresources obtained from the citizenry to advance narrow partisan goals. Thus, public funds can...

    • 9 Managing Information: Too Much Publicity, Not Enough Public Disclosure
      (pp. 195-214)

      The politics of access to information in Canada exposes a critical dichotomy in contemporary Canadian society: the right to information from our government and the power of the government to withhold, distort, or provide that information. Two fault lines characterize the government information field. The first, in which information is juxta-posed against privacy, will for the most part be discussed by Shade and Shepherd in their chapter in this volume. This chapter focuses on the second fault line, the publicity-information line, and the nature of the contradiction between too much publicity versus not enough information from government. Issues involving information...

    • 10 Tracing and Tracking Privacy Discourses: The Audience as Commodity
      (pp. 215-234)

      At the nextMEDIA digital media industry conference in Toronto in November 2010, Facebook Canada’s managing director, Jordan Banks, told reporters that today’s consumers feel it is “their right” to receive targeted advertisements from marketers: “Isn’t that the consumer’s expectation these days? We’re in this era of … this two-way conversation that every consumer feels is their right. Whenever they interact with a brand these days, they want to have a say, they want to be treated personally and they want to be talked to in a timely and relevant manner.” While asserting the positive impact of such targeted and branded...

  8. Part Three Beyond the Publicity State

    • Introduction
      (pp. 237-239)

      In the third part of this volume, authors address strategies and practices that counter the publicity state from various sectors or perspectives. Together, they illuminate aspects of Canadian society and activity in which possibilities lie for positive change to challenge the publicity state.

      Many believe that online communication has the potential to play a decisive role in fostering understanding and action that can counter state-led publicity. In their chapter, Greg Elmer, Ganaele Langlois, and Fenwick McKelvey examine the nature of campaigning in a politically interactive and networked world in which technical management for success displaces the common good, in effect...

    • 11 The Permanent Campaign Online: Platforms, Actors, and Issue-Objects
      (pp. 240-261)

      In the past few years, there has been an undeniable shift in political communication, one marked by the rise of so-called social media – user-generated Web 2.0 platforms such as blogs, social networks (e.g., Facebook), microblogs (e.g., Twitter), video and image Web sites (e.g., YouTube and Flickr), and knowledge repositories (e.g., Wikipedia). Social media make it possible for anybody to express themselves, and this ability has directly challenged traditional modes of political communication that rely on a handful of political and media experts to control and propagate political discourses and orchestrate political events. Recent uprisings in the Middle East, dubbed the...

    • 12 The Role of Social Movements and Interest Groups
      (pp. 262-280)

      Interest groups and social movements play a key role in political communication.¹ Since the 1980s, the role of groups and movements has been increasingly controversial. Right-wing parties have dubbed such groups “special interests,” while street protests such as the Occupy movement and the antiglobalization protests that dogged the leaders’ summits in Seattle, Quebec City, and Toronto have often conveyed an image of disorder and illegitimacy. These images suggest that collective action by groups of citizens is somehow illegitimate or undemocratic, despite an alternative perspective that freedom of association and freedom of assembly might be seen as core values of democracy....

    • 13 Reality Check: The Counterpublicity of Alternative Media
      (pp. 281-303)

      Alternative media play an important, if unacknowledged, role in democratic communication in Canada because they not only articulate and circulate both critiques of the status quo and free-ranging discussions of alternatives but also serve to represent views and voices that are ignored, neglected, or marginalized. Driven to represent those without access to the mass media, alternative media seek to provide balance in the public sphere of national debate. Under the New Right’s communications strategy, the state has become a “formidable power” in political communication that poses a “threat to the free and diverse distribution of information” (Golding 1995 in Kozolanka...

    • 14 Publicity State or Democratic Media? Strategies for Change
      (pp. 304-326)

      The past 20 years have witnessed numerous developments that have had negative effects on the democratic public sphere. One of the most worrisome of these developments has been the emergence of a publicity state in which the media’s role as intermediary between state and public has been eroded by persuasive political communication. For example, Gutstein (2009 and in this volume) notes how the success of expensive political persuasion campaigns on the part of specialized interests has manipulated both the news media and public discourse. Raboy and Shtern (2008) lament the erosion of public interest elements in Canadian communication regulations and...

  9. References
    (pp. 327-374)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 375-377)