The above interpretation of the prevailing role of PR especially makes sense when we consider the fundamental question, namely, ‘why do organizations (both political and business) practice public relations at all?’ A reasonable answer would be on the following lines: that PR offers organizations with “dynamic and comprehensive methods and processes of intentional representation in contested sites in which information is exchanged, meaning constructed and managed, and consensus, consent, and legitimating gained or lost with others” (Berger, 1999) . Seen in this perspective, the ideological underpinnings of PR activity do become apparent. Moreover, when one considers the concentration of new media ownership, the case for PR as an instrument of ideological propaganda is further strengthened. For example, most popular websites in public domain are run by “either big companies like Microsoft or national telecoms providers; or well established media organizations like the BBC or AOL Time Warner. These are complemented by start-ups like Yahoo! and Google who had sufficient funding and a good enough product to challenge the big boys. Hence, mass communication continues to be dominated by a handful of huge companies and is likely to remain so” (Park & Choi, 2002).
The confluence of new media technologies and electoral campaigns has attracted much attention in the last two decades. The theory that PR is an aid to ideological propagation can be tested for this case. In doing so, not only do we realize that new mediums such as the Internet are an effective tool for political campaigns but offer several advantages over other traditional media. There are four distinct areas where the Internet scores over conventional communication systems. These are
“first is the low cost of entry into the media, as opposed to television advertising. Second, costs associated with the web do not increase with the number of people reached. Third, the format is interactive, so candidates can involve voters in the process. Fourth, natural communities of interest about campaigns already exist on the web. Additional advantages for candidates in setting up web sites are: interactive campaign headquarters that can be accessed anytime by anyone with a modem; an inexpensive, direct way to engage in two-way communication with voters; and television-like graphics at a fraction of the cost.” (Park & Choi, 2002)
Other dominant theoretical perspectives that have shaped and moulded the PR industry are the practitioner perspective, symmetrical/systems perspective and a growing body of rhetorical/critical, feminist, and social scientific approaches that concern themselves with the questions of PR’s roles and responsibilities in society. These theoretical perspectives were articulated in the scholarship of noted sociologists such as J.E. Grunig and Botan. The core of Grunig’s argument was that the two-way symmetrical approach, which “sees an organization’s relations with publics as balanced — relations in which both adjust their behaviour to each other, is desirable, ethical, and characteristic of those organizations with excellent communication” (Park & Choi, 2002). This view is in contrast to the ideological role of public relations proposed by Bruce Berger.
The new media, which is largely driven by the advancement in digital technology, is well suited to all the aforementioned theoretical approaches to public relations. To this extent one can say that the new media does not play a role in influencing or altering existing theoretical frameworks, but rather adapts itself to their specific needs. (Berger) For example, in the case of an earlier instance of technological innovation that was the Gutenberg printing press, no historian argues that this invention was solely responsible for starting the socio-political Reformation in early modern Europe. But rather, it was one of the important factors along with other political and social factors that brought about change. Similarly the new media technology only plays a minor role in setting the agenda for the public relations industry. A common misunderstanding is that new media technologies are the sole or major cause of social or behavioural change. As many social commentators have pointed out there is no simple cause and effect connection between the two. With the era of technological advance and the advent of the Internet now in its third decade, this is an opportune time to reassess the role and value of new media from its initial understanding. (Sriramesh, & VerČiČ, 2003)