‘What they say peters down’: How non-profit leaders assess the trustworthiness of government – Elite discourse and distrust in post-conflict Northern Ireland

SAGE Publications
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Public Relations Inquiry, 2020, 9, (3), pp. 237-256
Issue Date:
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© The Author(s) 2020. This article uses Northern Ireland as a research context to explore how elite discourse (from political and media actors/institutions) influences how Non-Profit Leaders (NPLs) assess the trustworthiness of government. We provide emergent themes which should aid theory development and practice in the area of political public relations by showing: (1) the value NPLs place on ‘soft’ trust qualities in trust assessments of government, namely benevolence; (2) the importance NPLs place on communicative acts which model trust (e.g. dialogue, compromise, mediation); and (3) the destructive role of divisive political elite discourse within a defective political system, amplified via the media, in NPLs’ distrust of government. The study thereby emphasises the crucial and constitutive role trust perceptions play in (in)effective political public relations, arguing that ‘trust’ must be defined by the perceiver and critically unpacked if public relations research is to fully appreciate its function. We propose that the nature of Northern Ireland’s post-conflict divided society, and political discourse in specific, makes certain trust antecedents most desirable to cross-community stakeholders. The findings contribute to further refining the concept of trust in public relations and they may also be instructive for other contexts.
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