Is post-truth another word for political spin or a radical departure from it? : Evidence from behind the scenes in UK government communications: 1997 to 2015.
The charge of political spin, as a biased and self-advantaging form of public communication practiced by media and political actors, is thought to have developed alongside 24/7 media during the 1990s. More recently, the critique of the political arts of persuasion has deepened with the more serious charge of post-truth. Here, facts are deemed as malleable and subservient to beliefs, and indeed, can be strategically deployed to serve beliefs. This article draws on data from in-depth interviews with media and political actors and the analysis of key documents to examine the charge of political spin as applied to government communications, taking the UK since 1997 as a case study. It considers whether post-truth is just another word for the same phenomenon or a radical departure from it. Both charges can be seen as outcomes of the increasing mediatization of politics whereby complex socio-political issues are simplified into narratives and slogans, election campaigning becomes an integral part of the everyday process of governing, and political imperatives challenge the scope within government for the scrutiny of verifiable facts and truths. However, the stance taken by these charges in relation to evidence, and their acknowledgement of the role of accountability in public life and as part of the democratic process, are radically different. The article concludes that, far from being another word for ‘political spin’, ‘post-truth’ is a radical departure from it that signals a serious development: the crisis in public communication characterised by a growing public distrust in government and the democratic process.