Alex Malouf says eth­i­cal prac­tice counts more than ever be­fore.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

ALEX MALOUF Vice-chair, EMENA for the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Busi­ness Com­mu­ni­ca­tors

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