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.