This Australian story from last Friday offers interesting details about the communications staff employed by the Australian Taxation Office:
THE Australian Taxation Office has the equivalent of 277 full-time public relations, communications and media staff, including 10 responsible for “communication activity” in relation to the long-running Project Wickenby probe into offshore tax havens.
In answers to Senate committee questions on notice, the ATO has said that of the 277 just seven worked in the public affairs branch doing “media management” and mostly it was communication activities that supported taxpayers and tax professionals to understand their rights and responsibilities with the aim of promoting willing participation with the tax and superannuation systems.
Why does this matter? Well, as John Roskam and James Paterson argue in the latest IPA Review, “The number of professional media managers looks certain to swamp the media itself.”
The IPA has seen first-hand what the media management machine looks like, when we were offered a “meticulously researched” ghost-written, pro-NBN article by the Department of Communications. (Being good citizens, we published it – you can read it here.) As John and James write,
This media management trend occurs at the same time as the most overt media intimidation seen in Australian history. On a routine basis, government ministers not only attack individual media outlets for alleged bias, but promise to use the force of law to correct that bias. At the time of writing it still remains unclear what extra regulation the Gillard government intends to subject the media to in its quest for more favourable coverage, but proposed measures have included statutory media regulators to enforce balance.
Anyway, it’s no surprise that the ATO needs a good communications team. Project Wickenby has been, well, an unhappy venture, as Sinclair Davidson discusses at Catallaxy, and I wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2010.