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

Garland, Ruth. 2017. Between mediatisation and politicisation: The changing role and position of Whitehall press officers in the age of political spin. Public Relations Inquiry, 6(2), pp. 171-189. ISSN 2046-147X [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Despite widespread critiques of ‘political spin’, the way governments engage with the mass media has attracted relatively little empirical attention. There is a small but growing body of research into bureaucracies’ responses to mediatisation from within which have identified tensions between bureaucratic and party political values, but this has not included the United Kingdom. There are concerns 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 in an increasingly competitive market. Within Whitehall, 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 increasingly invasive media scrutiny. Public relations, in government as elsewhere, has grown in scale, scope and status, becoming institutionalised and normalised within state bureaucracies, but how has this affected the role, status and influence of the civil servants who conduct media management? Within the system of executive self-regulation of government publicity that is characteristic of Whitehall, government press officers must negotiate a difficult path between the need to inform citizens about the government’s programme, and demands by ministers to deploy 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 article examines the changing role and position of Whitehall press officers in what has become known as the age of political spin, finding that profound and lasting change in the rules of engagement has taken place and is continuing.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


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

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


30 May 2017Published Online
May 2017Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

17 Jan 2022 10:04

Last Modified:

18 Jan 2022 04:03

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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