9 mars 2004

Astroturf: Is it a two-way street?

Over at CanuckFlack, my good buddy Colin McKay blogs about "astroturf" today.

I ran across a piece with that title a while ago, and it's prompted a few thoughts about "astroturf" - the practice of creating an apparent grass-roots movement through subterfuge, careful marshalling of opposition, and the construction of apparently independent third-party coalitions and organizations. (...)

The charge of astroturfing, because it requires relatively large amounts of money, is frequently associated with big business or right-wing interests.(...)

A non-smoker's rights org has prepared a clear guide (.pdf) for activists trying to track the money, organizations, lawyers and lobbyists working for the tobacco lobby. It's also a quick reference for any effort to uncover astroturf organizations.(...)
His post made me think of something Ross Ervine did a while back. Now, Ross isn't someone I know, or even agree with, that much. Here's how he describes PR:

Public relations is war. It's about winners and losers. Winners gain public, media, and regulatory acceptance and support for their products, services, and organizations. Losers see their products, services, and organizations sacrificed on the altar of public opinion, pilloried by the media, and trampled by excessive regulation.
He's also very over the top in his judgments. He once wrote an article headlined Environmentalists win victory of unprecedented importance and magnitude: PR changed globally and forever where the lead paragraphs were:

Environmental activists have won a victory that's so stunning and far-reaching that even they are amazed. It's a win that -- over time -- will have an impact on PR across the United States, North America, and the entire world.

Regardless of the business you're in -- biotechnology, banking, transportation, chemical, nuclear, mining or agriculture -- you will feel its influence. It will stifle innovation, creativity and progress in your company or organization. And, it will change the way you do PR on a day-to-day
basis.
The reason I'm pointing Ross's work out here is that he also wrote something interesting a while back about the issue of openness and transparency by ngovernmentaltorganizationsons and activists:

For PR folks, media, politicians, and business leaders, non-government organizations (NGOs) present a formidable challenge. (...) NGOs -- they also operate under the banner of "civil society" --are relentless, some would say ruthless, in exposing so-called business "secrets."

NGOs, on the other hand, are seldom similarly challenged by politicians, the media, or the public. There seems to be a belief that NGOs are pure and above the political fray; that they are innocent and free from the "evils" on money; that they a source of unbiased and unquestionable scientific information; and, that they are the seekers and holders of the "truth." But, are they?

Whether they are or not, NGOs should be subject to the same demands for accountability and transparency that they place upon government, business, educational institutions and other organizations they challenge. It's only fair that accountability and transparency be a two-street. (...)

To help make NGOs more accountable and transparent, ePublic Relation prepared the first Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) / Civil Society Accountability and Transparency Report
(PDF).
Just wanted to put that out there to see a balance. So, is accountability a two-way street?
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