McLaughlin, Eugene and Neal, Sarah
Misrepresenting the multicultural nation.
Policy Studies, 25(3) pp. 155–174.
The Commission for the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain was launched by Jack Straw in January 1998 to provide a blueprint for a progressive, multi-culturally constituted 'post nation'. The long awaited Commission report - the Parekh report - was published two years later and was met by a torrent of negative news media coverage and government handwashing. Academics and policy makers working on sensitive issues of race, ethnicity, culture and national identity are still attempting to learn the lessons from the failure of the Parekh report to capture the national-popular imagination. A series of important research questions are raised in this article about the role of the media in public policy agenda-setting; the most significant being whether the negative news coverage and political response to the report signalled the end of New Labour's 'post Lawrence' attempts to re-imagine Britain as a twenty-first century multiethnic nation. In its account of the report's production to publication narrative, the article considers the continued power of the news media to confound and unsettle the plans of policy makers, academics, public relations companies and government ministers working on race matters. In the broader context in which the nature of the relationship between policy networks, social policy documents and the news media remains relatively under-scrutinised in both policy and media debates, the article explores how, and on what terms, policy makers can and do engage with the process of making race-related policy documents 'known about'. Drawing on data collected through a qualitative study of the journey of the Parekh report into the public domain, this article analyses the news media strategy developed to launch and promote the report and reveals the limits of attempts to manage the news media. It argues that the report was destabilised not only by the news media and its political reception but by competing sets of demands that mystified the purpose of the Commission and its beneficiaries.
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