SpinWatch started life as an ESRC application by David Miller – while he was still at Stirling University – to investigate business use of public relations to run from 2000-2003, with drawing £214,095.10 from the government tit. No sooner had his sponsoring institution boasted that ‘Stirling University has won the largest grant ever given in Britain to study public relations’, but Miller scarpered with the cheque in his pocket and bought himself a new office at Strathclyde University.
To keep control of his stash, Miller set up a private company, ironically called Public Interest Investigations with Greenpeace’s Andy Rowell as its Director (being private, and limited by guarantee, it has no obligation to publish its full accounts). The little-known shell company is based far away from Glasgow, in The School House, on Totnes Road, in bucolic South Brent, in fact.
SpinWatch’s technical model is the US-based SourceWatch and Corporate Europe Observatory. Much of the initial web content is copied over straight from SourceWatch. In 2003, at a launch meeting, Miller and Rowell brought SourceWatch’s Bob Burton and CEO’s Olivier Hoedeman over to bless the new project.
According to the limited accounts that PII does publish, just £5309 of the starting capital was left in 2008 – though the ‘profit and loss account’ published in the 2007 report claims an annual income of around £28,000 and an expenditure of around £18000. Typical of our times, having blown its original ESRC grant, Public Interest Investigations has survived on hand-outs from the Lebanese-based Jallad Group (either as ‘Isvara’ or in its prior guise as the ‘Humanitarian Group for Social Development’), various grants and subsidies from the late James Goldsmith’s Foundation and grants from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.