How the “sprawl lobby” is an example of industry disinformation corrupting public discourse

The latest episode of the sarcastically named ‘War on Cars’ podcast is an extra-strong thought-provoking one on how corporation disinformation impacts public policy covering health and the environment which undermines public and political will for real change.

The episode covers the area of ‘Dark PR’, the title of a book by Grant Ennis — his book covers the wider effects of Dark PR on health and the environment and the War on Cars episode focuses on issues around transport.

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Ennis is described as having 20 years of experience in international humanitarian affairs, environmental policy, and public health. Using that experience, he argues in Dark PR that companies control arguments in public debate by using framing or, basically, a cross-industry playbook of Dark PR.

Ennis outlines how the public, and even the likes of health groups can get caught up in multi-argument framing which is set by industry — which he breaks down as the “nine devious frames”. This framing, for example, has the aim of selling more sugar, tobacco or cars without pesky Government interference.

The 9 “nine devious frames” are denialism, post-denialism, normalisation, silver boomerangs, magic, treatment, victim blaming, knotted web, and multifactorial

He points out that while selling cars as a means of transport might seem like it’s something that’s not inherently evil, car makers use the same old cross-industry tactics to limit meaningful action on the effects of car dependency such as collisions, inactivity and environmental impacts of car use and road building.

Regarding transport, he also says that it’s not just the car industry but what he calls the “sprawl lobby” that pushes for car dependency for greater profits for their businesses at any cost.

Ennis argues that solving problems requires complex multi-policy solutions, but the likes of health groups and campaigners need to simplify their messaging. The policy level can be complex but the public framing cannot be split and still be effective, especially when faced with industries which have budgets of millions or billions.

It’s worth having a listen to the Dark PR episode of the War on Cars and thinking about picking up the book.


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