Spinning Out of Control

Ian Hargreaves traces the origins, and deplores the impact, of the unholy alliance between public relations and politics, business and journalism.

The British Government’s recent announcement of an independent review into government communications is formal acknowledgement of what has been privately recognised within the Blair administration for some time: the culture of spin, which once defined New Labour’s brilliance, has been re-defined as an act of self-harm.

Spin has undermined the already shaky trust in politicians, just as it has helped undermine confidence in financial markets. Following the stock-market boom and bust of the last four years, financial market regulators around the world have been asking harder questions about the conflicts of interest involved in the cross-cutting worlds of investment analysis and financial journalism. The more enlightened business journalists have been queueing up to blame themselves for failing to inform their readers earlier about the scandalous conduct of companies like  Enron and Worldcom. According to Richard Lambert, until last year Editor of the Financial Times, business journalists were ‘too influenced by the views of big financial institutions’.

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