The Prime Minister and the News Media: Political Communication as a Leadership Resource

Heffernan, Richard (2006). The Prime Minister and the News Media: Political Communication as a Leadership Resource. Parliamentary Affairs, 59(4) pp. 582–598.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/pa/gsl019

Abstract

The news media interest in political celebrity, backed up by the phenomenon of process journalism, magnifies the modern prime minister, placing him or her centre stage in key political processes. Tony Blair’s communication strategy has had two objectives. First, whenever possible, to try to secure favourable media coverage of the government. Second, to keep the government and its supporters on message while defining what that message is. Prime ministers can significantly influence the news agenda through use of authoritative, self-referential communication. Such influence is not uncontested because senior ministers, opposition politicians and backbench critics also use the news media to promote themselves and their competing agendas. The news media itself will also spin the stories it is spun, create those stories and thereby probe- and sometimes help fashion- intra-governmental differences and prime ministerial challenges. Nonetheless, by dominating government-centric political communications- and therein significantly influencing the news agenda- the prime minister can thereby reinforce his or her ability to agenda set within government. The news media, always an obstacle as well as a resource, a permanent critic as well as an occasional friend, can therefore provide an additional power resource to an already powerful and predominant prime minister.

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