Quote of the week
“Insiders say ongoing editing skirmishes continue between some government departments with strong leadership and the Privy Council Office.”
— Canadian Press, Sept 6, 2012
If there is one function of government that has undergone significant change in the past few years, it has to be communications.
In essence, governments are centralizing strategic thinking and exerting significant control from the centre on department and agency communication shops.
And it’s not just happening in Ottawa. In Alberta, the Premier has centralized the control of communications in her office.
And in the U.S., the President recently signed an order that will let the executive branch control communications “under all circumstances to ensure national security, effectively manage emergencies, and improve national resilience.”
There is one clear reason. As Hilary Clinton noted in 2011, the U.S. government is losing the “information war” with the public. She was referring to the increasingly political media, of course, but there is also the impact of technology that allows people to chase their own news and views.
From a strategic communications point of view, there is some logic to the argument that government needs to centralize communications decision-making in order to be coherent and heard in an increasingly busy media world.
The worrisome trend is that this centralization seems to lead to politicization.
It is one thing for the sitting government to create its “brand.” But it is quite another for government messaging to be deliberately confused with political messaging through, for example, the ignoring of government identity guidelines and deliberately partisan language.
This matters. Canadians need to be able to clearly distinguish between messages from their elected government and those from the institution of government.
In the short-term, it may not be critical. But in the long-term, there is a risk that citizens, already clearly disillusioned with the political process, will increasingly link their discontent to a disillusionment with the institution, and role of, government.