7 - Media management  pp. 123-142

Media management

By Raymond Kuhn

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First as Leader of the Opposition (1994–7) and then as Prime Minister (1997–2007), Blair was careful to pay considerable attention to the task of managing the media. This involved Blair and his advisers – most notably Alastair Campbell, his press secretary between 1994 and 2003 – in the pursuit of different but complementary communication objectives: first, setting the news agenda by promoting some stories and downplaying others; second, ensuring that issues were framed in as positive a fashion as possible; and, finally, projecting an upbeat image of New Labour in general and Blair's leadership in particular. This obsession with media management was understandable. The UK political communications environment of the Blair era was characterised by the twenty-four-hour news cycle, an explosion of media outlets, notably rolling news channels and internet websites, a phalanx of journalists hungry for insider information and a broad range of political actors, including parties and pressure groups, functioning in competition with the core executive as sources for the media. In the promotional culture of a ‘public relations democracy’, managing the media was a necessity – not an option – for Blair and New Labour.

For several years, Blair's media management activities met with considerable success. However, towards the middle of his first term as Prime Minister, journalists' stories critical of the government's attempts to control the news agenda began to replace comments which in the main had previously been full of praise for the professionalism of New Labour's media machine.