MARKETERS, DO THE RIGHT THING
Alex Malouf says ethical practice counts more than ever before.
Ethics. I’ve probably just put you to sleep, haven’t I? The subject isn’t the most eyecatching, and it won’t set a room alight. However, ethics is being discussed again by the media and communications industry, and rightly so. Incidents involving ‘alternative facts’ and false claims made on political websites have raised concerns, among many, that the communications industry is losing sight of the need to behave ethically at all times. Likewise, the recent accusations that the traditional media industry in the United States reports ‘ fake news’ have prompted many publishers and journalists to reiterate the need for a free and fair press that behaves ethically when it comes to reporting.
Either way you look at it, the issue of ethics is becoming a subject of intense interest for the media and communications industries. Over the past couple of months, three of the largest public relations associations globally – the Chartered Institute for Public Relations (CIPR), the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) – have all come out with statements upholding the unequivocal need for communications professionals to behave ethically.
“PRSA strongly objects to any effort to deliberately misrepresent information. Honest, ethical professionals never spin, mislead or alter facts,” Jane Dvorak, the society’s chair, wrote at the end of January. Dvorak’s statement came in reaction to a television appearance by President Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway, during which she uttered the infamous alternative facts line to describe false claims. “We applaud our colleagues and professional journalists who work hard to find and report the truth,” said Dvorak.
Writing in response to a similar incident in the UK, the CIPR’s chair, Jason MacKenzie, asserted: “The professional PR practitioner doesn’t deal in lies, distortion or spin. It’s as simple and straightforward as that. It’s also not credible for anyone, least of all a politician, to say that they don’t check communications that are published in their name by their own press officers.”
Ethics is just as relevant to our industry here in the Middle East. The marcomms industry is going through a period of unprecedented change, with the rapid growth of digital. And yet, is there enough guidance when it comes to the issue of ethics? There’s little to no regulation on the issue – there’s no equivalent to the Federal Trade Commission blogger/influencer disclosure rule in our region, for example – and there’s no unifying body that can enforce ethical compliance across our industry.
I’ll go out on a limb here, and say that my colleagues in the PR industry who I’ve had the pleasure of working with are the most ethical group of people I know. And yet I have also heard of stories that would indicate the opposite, such as incidents where a client has demanded results ‘no matter what’ of advertisers, who in turn have leaned on publishers for favorable coverage, and practitioners who have flat out lied to either the media or a client.
The issue with ethics is that it only takes one person behaving unethically to bring the whole industry into disrepute, regardless of the exemplary behavior of the other 99 professionals. That’s why the reminders about how we all should be behaving with integrity often come in handy. In a world of change and transformation, ethics counts more than ever.
The issue with ethics is that it only takes one person behaving unethically to bring the whole industry into disrepute, regardless of the exemplary behavior of the other 99 professionals.