Judge a PR’s ethics by their actions, not by their client list

I was reading this Paul Holmes’ piece in the Holmes Report in which he argues that everyone, no matter how distasteful, or morally repugnant their position, has a right to conduct public relations and advocacy campaigns.

“Far better to engage, exchange views and argue with those with whom one disagrees—especially if you believe you have right on your side—than to silence them. That is, or should be, one of the fundamental precepts of all public relations professionals.”

– Paul Holmes, Founder of the Holmes Report

His caveat is that the communication should be honest, truthful and to paraphrase ‘in the public interest’. (He was debating Ruder Finn’s decision to defend their campaign for the new Maldives government.)

Holmes argues that a communications consultant can effect positive change and generate a better environment for all if they abide by the principles and spirit of public relations, as set in many of our association’s codes of conduct. (I reflect on the International PR Association’s Code of Athens which commits PRs to support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

I see where Paul is coming from, but it scares me.

I remember hearing at IPRA’s Public Relations World Congressin Dubai earlier this year how one of our leading figures (I recall it was Lord Chadlington, Chief Executive Officer Huntsworth Plc but I’m not sure) raised the point that PR’s have a great potential to do ‘evil’ – as well as to do good.

Where do we draw the line – and who is responsible for regulating this boundary?

I have written several times about the Global Reporting Initiative and its Media Sector Supplement. Here it advocates that PRs and other content companies must be accountable for the content that they distribute and that they must be open about the decision-making processes behind this content.

If Ruder Finn or another organisation chooses to take on a client such as the Maldives government, I hope they will have a serious review of this guidance and make a full disclosure at the soonest opportunity.

I give as another example the current campaign from Julian Assange from Wikileaks in which he is attempting to avoid being extradited to Sweden to be investigated for two separate incidents.

I’m not sure who is leading Assange’s communications (I think it might be Borkowski but Wikileaks is not listed on the client page…) and dislike some of the messaging and strategy being followed, but respect the professionalism by which it has been implemented. (I rather wish they focus on dealing with the case at hand, rather than promoting ‘paranoia’ and spinning facts.)

In one case where Assange’s PR team may be defended and possibly applauded, is in their monitoring of international press and demands for corrections. You can read all about it here.

The case in point here is that Julian has not been charged and is only wanted for questioning – a very important fact when one considers the hostility faced in the US market. And also the reputation damage from such claims.

In litigation support it is essential to pursue every article and obtain amendments for incorrect data and the PR/Legal team appear to have done their job here.

In using the latest techniques to identify and correct media errors, the team involved is operating at the highest levels and providing correct counsel. However, I truly wish they would tone down their propaganda and focus on debating in a reasonable way so that the facts may be read by all as they have done with the Guardian here.

This is the latest statement from Assange’s team delivered last week for your interest.

Spokeswoman: Assange to stay at embassy by reuters

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About stephenking2012

In 2012 I volunteered to hold the position of Chair - Standards & Ethics Committee for the Middle East PR Association (@MEPRA_org). I have set up this account to assist in this effort. You may also like to follow my Blog or connect with me on LinkedIn. In any case, please do visit www.mepra.org, and if you are not yet a member, please do sign up!
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