Tony Blair's Lecture on Public Life and the Media:Functional Applications for Business and Research

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The function of the media in covering news and events has changed in the past 20 years from one of strict division between news and opinion to a blending of the two into news commentary. This paper uses systems theory and structural functionalism to examine Tony Blair's lecture on public life and the media. Lessons learned are suggested for business and research. Global market competiveness requires businesses and organizations become more astute in dealing with the press.

Keywords: Mass media functions, Hard news and commentary, Toni Blair, Media relations, Organizational competitiveness

INTRODUCTION

Prior to his resignation as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair talked about the changing relationship between government leaders and the mass media and the adverse affect on public life:

... the relationship between politics, public life and the media is changing as a result of the changing context of communication in which we all operate. . . . it is my view that the effect of this change is seriously adverse to the way public life is conducted; and that we need, at the least, a proper and considered debate about how we manage the future, in which it is in all our interests that the public is properly and accurately informed. (Blair, 2007, p. 1)

Government and the media, according to Blair, are complicit in creating the atmosphere of conflict in which they operate. The danger is that the public suffers because of a lack of facts. While government leaders have complained over the years about the media, the difference now is that quality and quantity of media coverage and the relationship with government has adversely changed.

The media world has changed because of the transformation of technology and fragmentation. For example, "Newspapers fight for a share of a shrinking market" Many are now read on-line, not the next day. Internet advertising has overtaken newspaper ads. There are roughly 70 million blogs in existence, with around 120,000 being created every day. In particular, younger people will, less and less, get their news from traditional outlets. (Blair, 2007, p.2).

While these changes are obvious, their effect is less obvious. "The news schedule is now 24 hours a day, 7 days a week" It moves in real time. Papers don't give you up-to-date news. That's already out there. They have to break stories, try to lead the schedules. Or they give a commentary. And it all happens with outstanding speed. (Blair, 2007, pp2-3).

News narratives and the news agenda change just as quickly, Blair says, "You have to respond to stories also in real time" Frequently the problem is as much assembling the facts as giving them. Make a mistake and you quickly transfer from drama into crisis. . . . Things harden within minutes. I mean you can't let speculation stay out there for longer than an instant. (Blair, 2007, p. 3).

The result is that

a vast aspect of our jobs today - outside of the really major decisions, as big as anything else - is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity. At points, it literally overwhelms. Talk to senior people in virtually any walk of life today - business, military, public services, sport, even charities and voluntary organisations and they will tell you the same. People don't speak about it because, in the main, they are afraid to. But it is true, nonetheless, and those who have been around long enough, will also say it has changed significantly in the past years (Blair, 2007, p. 3).

The consequences of this are acute, says Blair.

First, scandal or controversy "beats ordinary reporting hands down". News is not news unless it "generates heat as much as or more than light".

Second, "attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment". Errors are reported as conspiracies with cover-ups. "What creates cynicism is not mistakes; it is allegations of misconduct". …