Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Telling the Truth in PR

Sierra Williams

As I get ready to graduate this June and start my journey into the multi-faceted PR field, I plan to have my ethical shield held high. I believe that the public should know the truth and not be persuaded into believing false information distributed by “respectable” sources.

I am aware of the negative connotation that the public gives PR practitioners, and I for one do not want to be considered a “spin doctor.” While working in the field, I will strive to tell the whole truth while still doing my job by properly representing my clients; however, is this the case for all PR practitioners? Will my ethical efforts be overshadowed by others in the field who feel that truth comes second and positive coverage comes first no matter what the cost?

What constitutes as the truth?

In the article, “Truthfulness” in Communication Is Both a Reasonable and Achievable Goal for Public Relations Practitioners, by David Martinson, the question of whether or not withholding information from the public is considered the same as telling a lie. Withholding information may not be the same as telling a lie; however, the practice is deceitful and can ruin relationships and credibility.

According to Martinson, the goal of PR practitioners should not be to make the worse appear better. He believes that PR practitioners need to be ethical communicators who truthfully communicate their clients’ messages. Although Martinson makes a strong argument for the need of ethical communicators in the PR field, do PR professionals practice ethical communication?

Take it from the professionals

According to a bog post, “Public relations vs. journalism,” by the News & Record’s editor, John Robinson, Public Relation executives do not feel they have the obligation to tell the truth. More than 260 PR executives voted on the issue in a PR Week sponsored debate and 138 voted against the motion while 124 voted for the motion. The main reason for this belief is the media.

The executives blamed the journalists for “constantly sought out tension, discord and disruption.” Therefore, the executives had to protect their clients and, when necessary, “fib/be economical with the truth/lie.” Although this is not a surprising claim, PR professionals and the media need to work together to make sure the public is getting the truth and not deter one another from that goal.

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