I'd never heard of the phrase 'anticipatory compliance' until today, but I am so glad I did - it's nice to have a word for something you knew existed but you didn't quite know what to call it.
It's a lovely phrase which makes perfect sense, especially in the context of how Rupert Murdoch gets exactly what he wants done across his entire empire, as George Monbiot reports in his look at Bruce Dover's book about the Dirty Digger.
Why, for example, did every single Murdoch newspaper, in different territories all across the world, back the most recent war against Iraq? Do we think it was because every single editorial department came to exactly the same conclusion about the crisis in the Middle East, despite the fact that in many cases that was a view that flew in the face of the majority population in those countries, or possibly even a majority of their readers? Do we think they all decided to go that way over the war independently? Or does 'anticipatory compliance' have a part to play?
Most notoriously, he instructed HarperCollins not to publish the book it had bought from the former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten. Dover reveals that Murdoch was forced to intervene directly (he instructed the publishers to “kill the fucking book”) because his usual system of control had broken down. “Murdoch very rarely issued directives or instructions to his senior executives or editors.” Instead he expected “a sort of ‘anticipatory compliance’. One didn’t need to be instructed about what to do, one simply knew what was in one’s long-term interests.” In this case executives at HarperCollins had failed to understand that when the boss objected to Patten’s views on China it meant that the book was dead.
Murdoch steps in when he has to, but that's only in extreme cases. Generally, his people know what he would want and what is therefore expected of them. You can see it in offices up and down the country, newspapers and otherwise. The weak manager buckles under the anticipatory compliance; the strong manager might go against it, but gets a bollocking and then meekly does as he or she is told.
Newspapers often snottily complain that no-one tells them what to do, and react angrily when academics say that there are corporate pressures on what they produce. "I've never had anyone tell me what I can and can't put in my newspaper," an editor might say. "I've never been told what I can and can't write," a reporter might protest. But how often do these folk know deep down what they can and can't get away with, and self-censor? How often do editors really run stories that will piss off their proprietors, or annoy advertisers? How often do reporters look for stories that will go against the political slant of the paper?
Anticipatory compliance. It's a lovely phrase. I'm going to start using it often.