Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Conflicts of Interest Journalists vs. PR Professionals
Journalism Conflicts of Interest
Recently in class we have been talking a lot about conflicts of interest. Journalists must be sure that they are being unbiased reporters and talk about the truth, disregarding their own beliefs and even breaking a bond with a company that they may be close with in order to report the truth fairly.
While it's hard to be completely unbiased, we are just people after all, I think that journalists should be allowed to chose to walk away from a story if they know they will have a preconceived notion against it. Giving up your story and giving it to another reporter proves that you accept and understand your bias and want to make sure your own beliefs are not stated in the story.
However, what happens when your publication is biased? Recently, The New York Times has been receiving reports that their readers were noticing a liberal bias to their stories. Is it the responsibility of the paper or of the authors to remain unbiased? This brings up an interesting question, do the authors have a stronger responsibility to report the truth to the public or to report in the way their publication wants them to?
The Difference in Public Relations
Similarly, public relations professionals also have an obligation to two parties. Just as a journalist should remain unbiased but true to the way their publication reports, PR professionals should look to the interest of the client but present the truth to the public.
In public relations you are working for a specific client. Your main goal is to make your client look good which means hiding their faults and bringing attention to their accomplishments.
Look to any person who is well known and you will see that they’re always being showcased in a positive light by their PR team. After all, the goal of public relations is to make your client look good…but can our own client be a conflict of interest to us?
Though some will argue that public relations professionals lie to make their clients look good, as a PR student I have to disagree. Yes it is true that we try not to broadcast our client’s failures, but we do not hide them.
The PRSA Professional Standards Advisory states that, “Conflicts of interest have the potential to undermine or compromise the impartiality, credibility or trustworthiness of a practitioner due to the possibility of a clash between the practitioner’s self-interest and a professional-interest, or their public-interest, or their client’s interest.”
If a PR professional was receiving gifts or had external pressure to create positive lies about their client, then there would be a problem. However, there is nothing wrong with building your client’s reputation with truthful positive actions they have partaken in.
Additionally, PR professionals need to be careful that they’re not taking on opposing clients. It’s important to make sure your clients are not competitors because you are not being true to one client by trying to fight that one is better than the other, although you’re working for both of them.
So What Can a Professional Do If They Know They Have Bias?
Under the PRSA Conflict of Interest codes, it states you must, “act in the best interest of the client or employer, even subordinating the member's personal interests”. While I agree to a point, it’s hard to justify giving up what you stand for because of a client.
I feel as if PR professionals should be able to have a say in the clients they work for. If a professional really disagrees with their client’s beliefs or actions, they should be able to direct them to a coworker who does not have a preconceived notion.
Additionally, journalists should be able to refuse to write for stories where they know they would have a bias. Accepting and acknowledging you bias is okay, but it could ruin your reputation as credible if that bias is apparent in your writing.
Having some biased is okay, it is a human reaction, but if it gets to the point where you cannot work with a client, I think you should be able to give your client to another professional before you unknowingly harm their reputation.