The purpose of this paper is to seek an understanding of the role of government communication in Australia by examining perspectives on the extent to which public servant communicators persuade or engage the Australian public.
Themes from the public relations literature into the role and function of public relations are used in a qualitative analysis of key government documents and in‐depth interviews conducted with public servants, political staffers, journalists and interest group representatives.
This research found a diversity of views regarding the role communication does and should play within government. Participants without formal experience or education in communication generally viewed the function as one of persuasion and dissemination of information whereas the more experienced argued for more of an engagement with the public. A lack of detailed knowledge and/or use of public relations principles appears to be limiting the understanding of the role and purpose of government communication in Australia.
The research is conducted in an Australian context only and uses a qualitative approach that should not be generalised without further research.
Continued cynicism about the role of public relations in government does little to improve the quality of communication between a government and its public. This paper provides an opportunity for reflection on the purpose of government communication and the role of the public servant.
Previous studies in this area have generally focused on political communication in the sense of partisan or party‐political messages of government. This paper explores the concept from a bureaucratic perspective.
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