Public relations and totalitarian government: An awkward mix

Converged communicators who have recently taken PUR3000 (Public Relations) understand some of the complex issues involved when government agencies communicate with the public. In a government with democratic principles, these agencies are part of a larger branch of the government (generally executive or occasionally legislative, depending on the country), which is ultimately responsible to the people. But what happens in a single-party system in which government control over the economy and daily life is very tight? In these situations, the intersection of PR and government becomes very tricky indeed.


As NPR’s Frank Langfitt reports, the practice of public relations has recently become an issue of concern for officials in China, where the Communist Party holds complete authority. Because the Chinese government’s involvement in the economy is far greater than in the West, the government typically gets the blame when things go wrong. Langfitt describes instances in which Chinese officials have responded with denial in cases of incompetence, corruption, or scandal. Since freedom of the press and other civil liberties are tightly curtailed in China, the government has usually seen little need for openness in dealing with negative situations. In some places, though, this is changing. The story details various methods being used by the government to instruct its officials on ways to deal with the press, including procedures like simulated press conferences. So even in countries where public relations might seem to be insignificant, the key characteristics of effective PR – strategy, honesty, openness, and consistency – are becoming increasingly important.


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