Perception Management

In respect of smoking bans, it seems to me that there are two worlds: public and private.

The public perception of the UK smoking ban is that it’s been a great success, and has been welcomed by everyone, smokers included. There will be no going back. And it’s here to stay. And it’s a wonderful example of enlightened, progressive legislation – much like the emancipation of slaves a century or two back.

But my own private perception of the UK smoking ban is that it’s been a disaster. It has shattered communities, alienated smokers, bankrupted pubs, and probably resulted in a significant fall in demand in the economy as smokers stay home and don’t spend.

And I suspect that my perception of smoking bans is shared by many of my readers. And my private perception is also their private perception.

But it’s the public perception of these bans that matters most. This is what determines whether politicians and governments will consider making any changes. And since the public perception, as expressed by an absence of any media interest at all in it,  is that the UK smoking ban has been a great success, it’s clearly unlikely that the government is going amend it any way.

Indeed, it hasn’t even bothered to review it as it promised it would.

And in the UK, in fact, the smoking ban which was introduced on 1 July 2007 has always been a non-story. I still remember watching the BBC 6 o’clock news that day, and finding a brief report on it buried right at the end, with a couple of cheerful pub-goers interviewed welcoming it. The UK smoking ban was a “success” from Day One. And it was also a non-story from Day One too. I never saw a single news report about it again.

It was all very tightly managed. The smoking ban was going to be a “success”, and, short of armed revolt, the job of the media was to make it seem that way.

A few weeks after the UK ban came into force, I also saw Robert Feal-Martinez, chairman of Freedom2Choose, interviewed on the Richard and Judy chat show. He was getting quite a sympathetic hearing from Richard, until ASH got on the phone to the studio and Richard got an earful of something via his earpiece, after which his tone changed completely, and he became much more aggressive in his questioning.

It’s one reason why I no longer have a TV, and don’t buy newspapers.

I think the same sort of perception management goes on elsewhere. There is a considerable body of scepticism surrounding climate change/global warming, but governments generally act as if the climate change doctrine is widely-accepted public knowledge. It’s another non-story.

Much the same may apply with the EU, which is in deep trouble right now. But here perception is being managed in order to convince people that the eurozone and the EU will weather the storm, or that the storm has already been weathered, and the crisis is in the past. And so EU ex-Commissioner Romano Prodi appeared in recent days saying that, while he was very worried some months ago, he was no longer concerned about a possible break-up of the eurozone. It seems that if enough people make sufficient soothing sounds, loudly and repeatedly, everyone is re-assured. It has become another non-story.

Perception management of this sort entails manufacturing a false public perception, very largely by not reporting anything, or by reporting only success. The result can only be a widening divide between appearances and reality, which one day snaps – an example of which came during WW2 when a German radio listener suddenly realised that “our great victories were coming closer and closer to Germany”.

Much the same is likely to happen with smoking bans, global warming, and the EU. Overnight, everything that had been perceived to be a great success will come to be regarded as a terrible failure.

In this respect, blogs of one sort or other, whether they be about smoking bans or climate change or EU tyranny, provide a source of unmanaged news and comment. Their impact is not likely to be great in the face of the mass media, but they probably chip away at the foundations of received public wisdom.

For example, I’ve noticed in recent weeks that my post from a month or two back – the Black Lung Lie – seems to have gone a bit viral. It’s now getting over 200 hits per day, and rising. It’s had nearly 10,000 hits, and is streets ahead of my next most-read piece, which has only 4000 hits. Clearly there’s a hunger out there for something like this, which is about what must be one of the oldest lies in the antismoking playbook, dating all the way back to James I.

And it may connect with another post of mine which still gets a steady readership over 6 months after I published it: The Dwindling Power of the Media. For I believe that in the internet era it has ceased to be possible to control public perception in ways that it was not 20 years ago. The internet provides a vast library of alternative opinions. And once people begin to suspect that the mass media are duping them, and that they can no longer be trusted, it’s to the internet that people will turn as a source of alternative information. And people are indeed deserting the mass media, much like they’re deserting the main political parties.

If news has to be managed in such ways (and in recent years it seems to have been far more tightly managed than ever before), one may reasonably suspect that things are not going quite according to plan. For if they were going well, and everyone could see that all was going well, there would be no need for such management.

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20 Responses to Perception Management

  1. forcesnl says:

    I’m afraid that it will take some 10-20 years before the effects of the “internet era” will eradicate the old media and make them outdated. It’s the latest generation that is really building their knowledge of reality on the internet as information source.
    I’ve seen it in the Pirate Party. The majority of their members grew up with internet. They are developing ideas of changing democracy to “fluid democracy” in which internet provides the means to constantly have citizens involved in (political) decision making. That will be the end of MPs being elected for 4-5 years and make their own decisions between elections. They also developed ideas that are a threat to the current music industry because internet will force them to develop a new business model.
    The pharmaceutical industry is also attacked by way of new ideas involving patents which make drugs expensive.
    The PP for me is the new generation of politics/politicians that we, as the older internet elite, should embrace….

  2. waltc says:

    It sounded like something I wouldn’t like and as I read the above link I got to the part where this was the form of governance in the Paris Commune and early the early Soviet movement. It sounds like it’s one step up from the faddish tyranny of the (not always well informed or well-intentioned) majority. If I have to have a government, I’ll take the Constitutional variety, if only that constitution were enforced. The only part in what I read that that impressed me was

    “Often, the voters have the authority to refuse observance of a policy by way of popular referendum overriding delegate decisions or through nonobservance from the concerned members. This is not usually the case in representative democracy.”

  3. Frank J says:

    I think we all know that the smoking ban was never, and still isn’t, received with the pleasure that authority maintains. We all know that there is deep disgruntlement with it. The problem is that authority also knows it but, for some reason, seems determined to ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening.

    The question is why.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      I think it could well be their desire to
      1. Satisfy their EU Masters
      2. Satisfy their UN Masters
      3. Satisfy their own Master Race Eugenics driven Madness

  4. margo says:

    Very interesting, Frank. For me too, the smoking ban (and everything that went with it) started the opening of my eyes to the true role of the media – as a government instrument of propaganda to manage public perception. I’m sure it always has been its role, and we didn’t realise.
    Thinking about the ‘why?’ question, re the smoking ban and the lies that went with it, got me (by a winding road) onto radiation, war-mongering and corporate/government power – and then Fukushima happened. And that has got to be the biggest ‘non-story’ ever.
    The only way to find out what’s really happening is indeed now the Internet.
    But how successful is it, this managing of public perception? If I have to go to a social function nowadays – a wedding, say, or a funeral, I find myself surreptitiously looking round for clues, wondering if anyone else smokes and where “smokers’ corner” is. It feels a bit the way it must have been, once, for homosexuals, communists in the McCarthy era, conscientious objectors in the war, religious non-believers. But all those things have gone in the other direction – from a ‘dirty little secret’ to a habit or practice or belief that can be openly admitted.

  5. beobrigitte says:

    But my own private perception of the UK smoking ban is that it’s been a disaster. It has shattered communities, alienated smokers, bankrupted pubs, and probably resulted in a significant fall in demand in the economy as smokers stay home and don’t spend.

    And I suspect that my perception of smoking bans is shared by many of my readers. And my private perception is also their private perception.

    Yes, I am one of the many who share your perception of smoking bans. The media and the reality are two different things.

    Since 2007 I rarely visit pubs; they are pretty empty now, anyway. (In the 80s people didn’t have much money to spare, yet the pubs were still packed, even though alcohol bought in off licenses was much cheaper than in a pub.)
    Yes, I know that in Summer I could sit outside a pub in the sun – In summer 2008, on some good days, I did just that. But I did feel excluded and thought then: ‘let me get this straight; my cash is wanted, I am not.’ By summer 2009 I had stopped bothering going to pubs, even when the weather was good.

    Why would I want to put myself through (a for me not exactly favourite activity) shopping trips when I can’t have my comfortable, much needed, breaks with a cup of coffee + cigarettes? Why would I want to go outside and STAND (!!!!!) in the cold? (Is that called ” customer care “?)

    When will the media acknowledge the fact that the smoking ban is NOT WANTED by the people and that it has been a complete and utter FAILURE?

    • prog says:

      I don’t think most people actually care in the sense that they don’t want to do anything to turn the clock back. They also seem to passively accept all the other shit emanating from authority. Everything has become totally overwhelming. If it’s not one thing it’s another, all fuelled by relentless media hysteria. I guess most hope it will simply go away. So long as they remain apathetic it won’t of course.

  6. harleyrider1978 says:

    The ASH public perception Media Releases of the UK smoking ban is that it’s been a great success, and has been welcomed by everyone, smokers included. There will be no going back. And it’s here to stay. And it’s a wonderful example of enlightened, progressive Nazi legislation – much like Hitlers Thousand year Reich.

  7. jaxthefirst says:

    Of all the topics you mention, the smoking ban has been the most damaging to the credibility of the mainstream media, because it’s so acutely visible and personally affecting to so many people, and not just the smokers. Had it not been for the sceptism born of the smoking ban, the Greens could have gone on wittering about Climate Change and the Europhiles could have continued expounding about “Peace in Europe” and how we are all benefiting from being part of this lovely, cuddly European “family,” and got away with it, because by and large not many of the public have any personal point of reference from which they can say with certainty “but that’s not happening” in terms of both of these subjects.

    But there is virtually no-one who hasn’t seen at least some effect from the smoking ban, and there are few people who can state unequivocally that those effects have been solely positive. Even antis who like the ban are now moaning about having to “walk through crowds of smokers outside.” So the ban’s had a negative effect, even on them. So whenever there’s yet another pronouncement about how wildly popular the smoking ban is, it drives yet another little doubt into the public’s consciousness that somehow they’re just not being told the truth. These little doubts then mount up into a full-blown lack of acceptance of anything the mainstream media reports on. And the moment this scepticism has taken root on one subject – as it clearly has, given the increasing number of dissenting voices now being heard against the ban, even from erstwhile ban-supporters – the rot will easily spread to all other stories reported by the mainstream media, as has happened.

    In fact, if the mainstream media want to restore their credibility in the public’s mind, and thus recapture the influence they once had over public opinion, the first place they’d have to start being realistic and honest would be in their reporting about smoking ban itself. Trying to be realistic and honest about either of the other two issues without also being honest about the ban would be the journalistic equivalent of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

  8. Steve Kelly says:

    People are losing faith in mainstream media. An example is the American magazine “Newsweek” (which I’m pretty sure publishes a European edition as well). It’s dead as of the end of this year. It’s cutting staff to a minimum, and says it will keep publishing an online version, but as a print publication it’s going to its grave. “Newsweek” has been around since my parents were young. I started reading it as a child and subscribed for decades into adulthood. It was considered a somewhat more conservative competitor to the alternative “Time” magazine. I used to subscribe to “Time” as well, and to a number of other magazines, too. I gave up on every last one of them a decade or more ago. I was nauseated by the liberal political correctness, and in particular, the hateful one-line view that smokers should be disgraced and eliminated from society. I even gave up on the conservative “National Review”. It would criticize the smoker pogrom occasionally but occasionally wasn’t good enough for me. It would also often treat Anti “authorities” respectfully (when what they deserve is something like a Nuremberg trial). I just said “ugh” to the mainstream. I still look or watch here and there but most of it’s still all “ugh”. Probably I trusted mainstream media too much decades ago, but it certainly grew worse over time, and I have about zero respect for it now. In particular over the years, “Newsweek” altered from a fairly balanced periodical to a plain propaganda rag. A recent cover showed Barack Obama with a halo! So I guess just about everybody’s given up on “Newsweek”. Just about everybody isn’t good enough but it’s getting closer to everybody so that’s the good news this week (that “Newsweek” is still trying to hide, but can’t!).

  9. XX But it’s the public perception of these bans that matters most. This is what determines whether politicians and governments will consider making any changes. XX

    That’s a new one on me. Since when has the scum in Westminster (or even in the Reichstag, Riksdag, Shi….sorry WHITE house, etc) ever listened to their “public”?

    • Frank Davis says:

      When public perception – as it is articulated in the media and by politicians and pundits – is managed from the top down, it can be anything they want it to be.

      That’s what’s happened with the UK smoking ban. It has been declared to be a great success, and that’s what the media and the politicians and the pundits all say. And it was declared to be a great success from Day One. I watched it happen (because I had a TV set back then).

      It doesn’t matter what little people like me think. We can complain all we like. But the public perception – the institutional perception – will remain that the smoking ban has been a great success, and that everybody loves it (particularly smokers), and that more people than ever go to pubs now that they are wonderfully smoke-free, and the pubs are thriving. None of this is actually true, but that doesn’t matter, because this is what the media and the politicians and the pundits want it to be like, and it’s what they think that matters.

      We are living in a sort of USSR in which the radio and the newspapers all say how wonderful the Soviet state is, and how its Stakhanovite workers are over-fulfilling all their production targets, even though in reality people are starving.

      And pretty soon, we probably will be starving. We won’t just be smoke-free, but we’ll be food-free and water-free and electricity-free.

      • margo says:

        No problem. They’ll cheer us all up with another royal wedding (Harry, I expect), and we’ll all smile and wave flags and have a wonderful day.

  10. mikef317 says:

    Kind of on topic even though it has nothing to do with tobacco. Much like the “aroma” of smoke has become (for some people) a “stench” or “pollutant,” below is a nice article on the transformation of “defatted chopped beef” into “pink slime.”

    Dedicated government bureaucrats warning about a product they don’t like. “If it bleeds, it leads” media doing an “expose” about American school children being fed “pink slime” so a corporation could make a profit. Public outrage! What else is new?

  11. garyk30 says:

    Perception Management = sleight of hand= staged magic

    Amusing when done for entertainment; but, horrifying when done for social control.

  12. Frank Davis says:

    Richard North has been writing about this today, except about London during the blitz.

    This manipulation of public sentiment is a fascinating, if poorly studied phenomenon, but is an important part of the way we are governed. Basically, the game is to keep us focused on the things that TPTB consider harmless, or controllable, and away from the danger points.

    The techniques are, of course, as old as the hills, with attempts to manipulate public opinion going back as longs as there has been a “public” to have an opinion.

    Of this, I am learning more and more, especially with my current area of study – looking at the 1940 London Blitz. In trying to assess what was really going on in the East End, as opposed to what the media was saying, there is one tantilising reference in Harold Nicolson’s diaries, to the King and Queen being booed by the crowd as they made one of their morale-boosting tours.

    Such, you might think would be the sort of “news” that the Press would be only too keen to report, except that both censorship and self-censorship ensured that nothing of this reached the newspapers. You will look in vain for such references.

    But what you do get in an obscure contemporary journal is a paper from Ted Bramley, the London Communist leader, who was directly involved at the coal-face, so to speak.

    “The reaction of the people is very significant”, he wrote. “It varies and is a little different area by area, according to the experience through which people have gone. In East and South-East London particularly, there is no other topic of conversation. All energy and thought is first devoted to getting a bit of food, a bit of sleep, and shelter”.

    “But at the same time”, he went on to explain, “there is widespread expression of bitter dissatisfaction. Universally they demand better and safer shelters. There are more bitter expressions of class hatred against the rich than I have heard for years”.

    “The capitalist press”, Bramley continued, “has worked overtime writing up the courage and patience of the East Londoners. The King and Queen have been worked extensively”

    • XX Ted Bramley, the London Communist leader, XX

      Aha. And of course, HE would not have any self interest in reporting the crowds rea-action to the Royals, in a totaly unbiased and truthful manner, would he.

  13. Barry Homan says:

    I see it again and again. I’ll say it again and again. We need to take ACTION. We can no longer sit around as a lot of “individual” non-effective moaners, even if we make up the “cool” crowd (which we do); the bleebs, feebs and goobers are currently running (ruining) the world – and we just let them. We have to do something.

    • Frank Davis says:

      We have to do something.

      Before we can do something effective, we have to be clear exactly what needs to be done. If we don’t know what to do, then most likely anything we do will be either ineffective or counter-productive.

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