Thursday, January 14, 2010

Government advertising and the politics of fear

Grant Shapps, has accused Labour of using the Government’s Central Office of Information’s (COI) taxpayer funded budget to make up the gap in their election coffers.

For those that don’t know COI is the government advertising and marketing arm, they are the ones that are responsible for commissioning all of those awful government campaigns on television (and in the press and on billboards), such as the don’t eat salt, eat healthily, quit smoking, and stop climate change campaigns. Generally the quality of them is terrible, but they’re always there.

Or at least since Labour came to power they’ve always been there. Grant Shapps revealed that in 1998 COI advertising spending was £59 million, whereas in 2009 it rose to a new record of £232 million, a 39% increase over the previous year.

The government is defending this by saying that during the recession COI spending has been vital to the the advertising industry, and indeed at one point when the recession first hit it seemed like there were no other adverts than goverenment ones, and that clearly the ad industry would collapse without a “government bail-out”. However Grant Shapps has challenged this ascertation by pointing out there were similar spikes in spending before the 2001 and 2005 elections.

Having the trappings of being the incumbent is extremely useful inside an election campaign, note for example how Brown et al always appear in front of a government department logo, not a Labour one, when announcing policy initiatives or briefing the press. However I think this is a somewhat cynical abuse of their position. By increasing advertising spending it makes it look like the government is doing something to tackle issues like climate change, the effects of smoking on individuals and the NHS, swine flu etc when actually all it’s doing is telling the population not to do something.

The last year has also seen COI’s output go into a fear over drive. Nearly every campaign in the past 12 months has played on fear, and nearly always fear in relation to your children. From the climate change advert featuring a father telling their children a scary story about the effects of climate change, and of course showing how your cute dog will drown. Right through to the stop smoking campaigns which featured smoke coming out of a child’s mouth when they breathed (passive smoking you see) or just a cute child saying “please stop smoking daddy, I don’t want you to die.”

COI’s output has matched the governments own politics of fear, some would say that COI is in fact the government's propaganda arm, controlling the population through fear and ensuring they stay in line with government policy and ideology.

The same politics of fear are beginning to pervade the election campaign as well, reminders of the 80s and the last recession, scaremongering about the effects of Tory cuts, actors coming out and saying they couldn’t think of anything worse than a Conservative government. It’s an old tactic, but it seems to be Labour’s favourite.

Related Content

No comments:

Post a Comment