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Pressure group

It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about

From the Guardian:

Failure to take action to combat climate change will cause environmental catastrophe and cost the global economy $20 trillion (£10.8 trillion) a year by the end of the century, the pressure group Friends of the Earth says today.

I noted in my book that the name “Friends of the Earth” is an amusingly obvious kind of Unspeak (don’t agree with us? You must be an Enemy of the Earth!). But what is the term “pressure group” as a description of FotE doing in this news report? Why use this term rather than the neutral “charity” or “organization” or merely “group”? FotE does invite its members to “act local”, to write to MPs and so forth: in that sense it wishes to exert pressure on the public conversation. But this is of course the raison d’être of any NGO, and not all of them are called “pressure groups” by reporters. The CBI, for example – the British club for what are sometimes called “captains” of industry, which lobbies for lower rates of corporation tax and deregulation – is not called a “pressure group” in recent Guardian reports on its activities, even though it is no less interested in exerting pressure, in a more or less opposite direction, than Friends of the Earth. Indeed the CBI is only (and routinely) called a “pressure group” by those who disagree with its views, as for example here.

So it seems as though “pressure group” is just a way of saying “a group that promotes a point of view of which we are sceptical”. Any group, the implication runs, which is so pushy about its ideas must have some nefarious ulterior motive. To be pressured is to be made uncomfortable, rushed, not given time to think. Introducing an organization as a “pressure group” in a news report is already a way to prejudice the reader against it, to seek to undermine its credibility.

What kinds of groups are more likely to be called “pressure groups” in the authorial voice of a newspaper? A search is illuminating. The term has been applied in the last few months by the Guardian and Observer not only to Friends of the Earth but also to Liberty, Peta, the New Economics Foundation, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Animal Aid, Global Witness, Compass, Genewatch, and the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. Each of these is what might generally be called, as a tellingly common extended version of the phrase has it, a “left-of-centre pressure group”. By contrast, I could find only one specific recent application of “pressure group” to what would normally be understood as a “right-of-centre” organisation: a mention in an article by a mortgage executive, celebrating an influx of tenants from other countries, of “pressure group” Migration Watch (not a birdspotters’ club). An interesting pattern, no?

  1. 1  Andrew Brown  October 13, 2006, 1:42 pm 

    There is also an unofficial criterion, which may apply in some of these cases: a pressure/lobby group is one which has been caught lying to the reporter. I certainly used that distinction when I was a specialist.

  2. 2  Andrew Brown  October 13, 2006, 1:44 pm 

    Incidentally you seem to have a template problem: my captcha (?) screen was preceded by

    [snip template-breaking code – SP]

    which shoudn’t be pointing at the customers.

    [thanks – I’ll look into it]

  3. 3  Steven  October 13, 2006, 2:02 pm 

    a pressure/lobby group is one which has been caught lying to the reporter

    That sounds like a useful criterion, although I’m not sure how rigorously it is applied. But then “pressure group” simply becomes a codeword for “bunch of liars”, which is not being entirely honest to the readership if they are not aware of the convention.

  4. 4  Seattle Man  October 13, 2006, 2:08 pm 

    I agree with Steven’s analysis on this one. ALL groups which urge adoption, modification etc of public policy are “pressure groups.”

  5. 5  Jon Elliott  October 13, 2006, 2:30 pm 

    Perhaps FoftE just that a “pressure group” and deserve all of the implied derogatory terms – “bunch of liars” and so on. My reason for saying so is that it is difficult to find anyone who has a counter arguement to “climate / global warming” that is not “tainted” with big-oil money.

    Difficult perhaps but not impossible. Piers Morgan of Weather Action (google will help you find the website) suggests:

    “Global weather is always changing! There is nothing new happening that couldn’t be reasonably explained by solar activity. Substantially bigger climate variations than recent changes have occured in the last few hundred or few thousand years due to natural causes. The surface temperatures here on Earth have increased in the last century but this is more closely correlated with increases in solar activity than with rising carbon dioxide levels made by man. The temperature could start to fall shortly or could rise for another thirty years depending on general changes in solar activity. I don’t think the long-term predictions of global warming using carbon dioxide theories mean anything.”

    I wonder if Al Gore would agree with me that perhaps Piers Corbyn is stating an alternative “Inconvieniet Truth”?

    Either way, I am tired of the hysteria that seems to surround this subject and the bandwagon it seems to provide for some opportunists that seem to have turned a “fearful” “green” recently.


  6. 6  Andrew Brown  October 13, 2006, 2:39 pm 

    oh, but “Caught lying to the reporter” does not mean “Lies all the time”. It just means “Don’t believe without corroboration”

    One needs another code word for “Tells the truth only by accident.”

    I take your point about this not being entirely honest with readers. But entire honesty with readers is an ideal which can’t always be attained. If you take the case of a pressure group, they are telling reporters things, sometimes, perhaps often true things, solely to have them believed by the public. If what they say is flagged unambiguously “LIES” they will talk less to the reporter who does this. Sometimes that’s a worthwhile trade-off. Sometimes it isn’t. Code words that the intelligent reader can understand are a useful compromise.

  7. 7  Steven  October 13, 2006, 3:01 pm 

    Jon, some links on the extent of solar contributions to global warming: Stanford Solar Center, British Antarctic Survey, US Global Change Research Program. As you can see, no one denies that solar activity has some effect, but the consensus is that greenhouse gases provide the large majority of current forcings. But this is off-topic; I do not intend to let this become a global-warming “sceptics” thread.

    Andrew, I see your point, but it seems to be a leap of faith that the reader will indeed understand such code words.

  8. 8  charlie  October 13, 2006, 3:56 pm 

    I’m really not sure about your point here? Margaret Thatcher’s seldome refered to as a Revolutionary, although in many ways she was, but because she is claimed by the Right, she will always be a Reactionary, and her government (never Junta) treated as the Norm. The Left, however tame, will tend to be fended off with the suspicion of subversion (pressure-groups etc). It just depends on who’s got hold of the mike, and that is normally an establishment perogative. A pressure-group is an action, pressing against a reactionary staus-quo, well, that’s according to Newton anyway.

  9. 9  Jon Elliott  October 14, 2006, 10:16 am 

    Thanks for the links and I take your point re “threads”

  10. 10  Steven  October 14, 2006, 2:02 pm 

    Interestingly, too, the Guardian article linked attributes the headline opinion to “pressure group Friends of the Earth”, and only in the seventh paragraph does it admit:

    The Friends of the Earth report was compiled by economists at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University in Massachusetts in the US.

    But I suppose Tufts economists can’t be so easily dismissed as a “pressure group”.

  11. 11  uncool dude  October 14, 2006, 7:00 pm 

    It’s a suggestive bit of analysis but flawed insofar as it has as its foundation the spuriously subjective placement of groups onto a left-right spectrum. With the advent of New Labour on the one hand and a new cuddly Cameron-led toryism on the other it is, in my view and that of many others, a practice to be deprecated. You could say this paradigm is no more. It has puffed its last puff, squawked its last squawk. It has shuffled of this mortal coil and gone to meet its maker. It is, in point of fact, a dead paradigm.

    The FotE is a case in point. It is not against business per se but business without green credentials. It is in every other respect non-ideological and apolitical. Your analysis, therefore, as with the proverbial castles in the air is without foundation.

  12. 12  Steven  October 14, 2006, 7:11 pm 

    FYI, I spend a whole chapter of Unspeak talking about the general spuriousness and subjectivity of spectra (also see this post), but “left-of-centre pressure group” is a direct quotation from the Guardian, and you no doubt know exactly what I mean when I suggest that a group fomenting hysteria about “migration” “would normally be understood” as on the “right”. (Successive Labour home secretaries included.)

    Of course I never wrote that FotE is “against business”. It is perfectly true that the CBI exerts pressure in an opposite direction to that of FotE, as I wrote, inasmuch as it is anti-regulation etc.

  13. 13  gspezio  October 14, 2006, 7:58 pm 

    Way back in the mad mad sixties a very liberated lady taught me her special take on pressure groups and their effect on lower level social organization. She was attractive in the sense that she could have been cast as the Cheyenne chief’s daughter collecting water at the spring as the cowboy happens to ride by (“the movies will kill ya”).

    She truly loved to gang bang or perform fellatio on groups of males. She had learned that three to five hard working individuals was most successful for her to achieve multiple orgasms. During intercourse her eyes would disappear up into her forehead and powerful blasts of air would pulsate from her vagina. Sometimes it seemed as though she completely left the planet.

    She was a truly unique lady because she could orgasm while passionately giving the most affectionate head. The more she moaned and gulped and moaned, the more her vagina would emit powerful blasts of air – plooh, plooh, plooh, plooh. When she had finished everybody off, she would often just lie motionless and exhausted for five minutes.

    “It’s the constant pressure that does it,” she explained.
    “One guy, or even two guys, just can’t get me off like that, period.”
    That she later became a lawyer and well-connected lobbiest may have some research possibilities for cognitive psychologists trying to decipher the conundrums of group pressure/pressure groups. Just an interesting anomaly or possibly a pattern. She detested the term gang-ganging and always referred to her social exploits as group sports.

  14. 14  somebody  March 12, 2007, 10:38 am 


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