Is symmetrical communication in politics possible? A comparative study of communication practices among leading New Zealand and Norwegian political public relations practitioners
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This research compares New Zealand and Norwegian political public relations practice by using the Excellence Theory as the theoretical framework. The thesis applies a qualitative, interpretivist and comparative methodology using interviews as the main method of data collection. It investigates how practitioners in two countries apt for comparison view the notion of two-way symmetrical communication. Two-way symmetrical is a best-practice model of public relations and was introduced by Grunig (1976) and later became the central concept of the Excellence Theory (Dozier, J. Grunig, & L. Grunig, 1992; J. Grunig, L. Grunig, & Dozier, 2006). The theory has garnered critique from several scholars (Cancel, Cameron, Sallot, & Mitrook, 1997; Strömbäck & Kiousis, 2011; Theunissen & Wan Noordin, 2012), because it inhibits public relations practice by ‘forcing’ it into normative models of practice. This thesis affirms the suitability of the Excellence Theory in political public relations practice if it is practiced using a mixed-motive approach, where practitioners combine symmetrical and asymmetrical practices. Four of the six participants in the study expressed views consistent with a mixed-motive approach. Two New Zealand participants, however, displayed largely asymmetrical views. It is argued that Norway’s more entrenched multi-party system, as well as a government more active in facilitating free speech, is conducive to creating a vibrant public sphere in which to practice symmetrical communication. The thesis also suggests that the emergence of digital and social media is also creating an environment in which it is easier to practice symmetrical communication. This may have benefits to smaller political parties in that it allows greater access to media channels that reach new publics.