September 17, 2014

It’s vital that we don’t cut corners when it comes to ethics

– By Eamonn Moore.

There’s a great history of public figures being caught making unguarded comments by the press and media, but such cases appear to be rife this spring/summer.

First there was Bigotgate. Then there was Snookergate. Then Lord Triesman was shown the red card after apparently making some unguarded comments about Spain and Russia bribing officials at this summer’s World Cup. And now Sarah Ferguson has been caught allegedly offering to sell access to her ex husband Prince Andrew. What’s next?

In my previous blog post, I looked at how Gordon Brown’s PR should be handled post-Bigotgate, but did not tackle the ethics of the situation – something that I now feel I should address, especially after the thought provoking discussion on ethics in this week’s #CommsChat.

The whole issue of ethics and the media has always been and will always be a hot potato. Do we have a right to know everything that public figures say (even if it’s said ‘behind closed doors’) or is everyone entitled to their privacy? Should we perhaps only be alerted to conversations that are of genuine national interest, and if so, what constitutes ‘national interest’?

Personally, I feel that there are circumstances when it is genuinely important that the contents of a private conversation are aired – Watergate perhaps being the best example of this. However, in cases such as the one involving Lord Triesman, the desire to have a sensationalist headline (and increased sales) seem to have been received by some as a neglect of ethical standards by the newspaper in question. Whether his allegations are correct or not, you could argue that Lord Triesman has a strong case to say that he has been the victim of entrapment. Furthermore, surely potentially irreversibly damaging England’s 2018 World Cup bid is not in the ‘national interest’? Gary Lineker certainly didn’t think it was.

Working in public relations, I am acutely aware of the importance of ethical and responsible media reporting. We rely on the media to do our jobs, and they rely on us, so I see it as our duty to help uphold, support and encourage the highest ethical standards. Indeed, if the media fall short of such standards, it often impacts on the world of public relations (and vice versa).

Various recent public mudslinging matches between PRs & PRs, and PRs & the media have shown us that it cuts both ways. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being critical of something (or someone), provided that you go about it in a considered manner, choosing to value ethics over link-bait opportunities, and always aiming to offer constructive criticism by suggesting possible areas of improvement, rather than just celebrating perceived misfortune. It seems to me that events of late have left the PR world feeling somewhat tarnished.

The world of communication is developing apace along with technology, but if we’re not careful, we risk losing sight of the basics, especially when it comes to ethics. As PRs, it is our duty to both protect and enhance our industry’s reputation from within by being positively and proactively ethical at all times (even when we’re being critical of something). If we don’t fulfil this duty, the whole industry’s reputation could well be left in tatters, and none of us want that, do we?