Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Weaver, C. & Motion, J. M. (2002). Sabotage and subterfuge: Public relations, democracy and genetic engineering in New Zealand. Media Culture & Society, 24 (3), 325-343.


Public relations has often been criticized for playing a pivotal role in the corporate sector’s attempts to undermine public debate and concern about environmental issues (Beder, 1997; Hager and Burton, 1999; Halvarg, 1994; Hawken, 1993; Mitchie, 1998; Stauber and Rampton, 1995). Analyses of corporate environmental public relations work demonstrate how businesses are promoted as ‘environmentally responsible’ and how this can succeed in pacifying concerned publics when the validity of these evidently persuasive claims is highly questionable. Yet critics of ‘environmental’ public relations practices have not examined how they are actively encouraged and accepted by the politics of neo-liberal market economies and governments. In this article, we argue that in New Zealand such an economy provided the ‘justification’ for corporate and government public relations attempts to stifle public debate about the environmental and health implications of genetic engineering research. Indeed, the article demonstrates how, in a neo-liberal political economy, public relations may be used to promote wealth creation as a public interest priority above and beyond the public’s right to be informed about the possible negative consequences of wealth creation initiatives. The article explores the relationship between New Zealand’s neo-liberal political economy and public relations practices through an analysis of the campaigns developed by the consultancy Communications Trumps for King Salmon, a privately-owned company, which sought issuesmanagement advice on its genetic engineering experiments on salmon, and for the New Zealand Government-funded Crown Research Institutes (CRIs).