11 September 2014
Ethical wake-up call from Hager
The activities of PR people mentioned in Nicky Hager's book 'Dirty Politics' have raised questions about the ethics of PR in general.
These activities bear little resemblance to the activities WHAM conducts on behalf of its clients. But there's no denying that, like all professions, there are bad eggs in PR. The challenge is holding those bad eggs to account.
As the Institution of Engineers found when it tried to discipline some of its members after the Canterbury earthquakes, if a professional body doesn't have legislative backing, members can simply resign to avoid being charged with professional or ethical breaches. The Public Relations Institute has had the same problem in the past.
Members of PRINZ are bound by codes of ethics. Highly relevant in the context of Dirty Politics are:
+ Promote open communication in the public interest wherever possible
+ Be honest and accurate in all communications
+ Avoid deceptive practices
+ Not engage in irrelevant or unsubstantiated personal criticism
+ Be prepared to name clients or employers represented and the sponsors for causes
+ Counsel colleagues on ethical decision-making
+ Decline representation of clients or organisations that urge or require actions contrary to this Code
WHAM's clients include government agencies, national lobby groups, private companies and charities. Advancing their causes and interests within an ethical framework is not only a matter of pride for us. It works for our clients, whose reputations and relationships are enhanced by our activities.
Unethical tactics can be tempting, even exciting. But if they are exposed, they are the ultimate own-goal for both the consultancy and its clients.
Nicky Hager has given the PR profession a welcome reminder that its codes of ethics are not just dusty documents that student practitioners have to recite. They are living documents that are applicable to the work we do every day.
- Trevor Walton