Archive for the ‘truth’ Tag

PR or Propaganda?

The truth- that is what keeps Propaganda at bay from Public Relations. Doing what a practitioner does best – spinning, if based on credible facts is simply PR. But when the facts get diluted in the hype of amassing the largest number of impressions either online or off it, then its Propaganda.  

However, that brings us to the question of what is a truthful fact? A PR practitioner is the representative of clients and does not have much say about the factual information related to the core processes of the company. This raises quite a few ethical issues as the codes of ethics emphasises on practitioners to investigate the facts made by the clients. Though, in reality this is not always a possibility. The practitioner has to make a tough choice based on a professional commitment and faith on the clients ability to share facts. The PR practitioner acts like a good citizen of the corporate world and makes sure that the illusion of their client holds in the eye of the public. Sometimes it would mean defending the client on issues like environment and safety standards for employees. 

Is propaganda still powerful?

Isn’t that also the purpose of Propaganda? Eventually, both PR and Propaganda are selling an idea through a set of objectives and strategies. Propaganda is defined by E. Bernays’s as “the consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.” We see a similar theme when we look at how he defines Public relations: “attempt by information, persuasion and adjustment, to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement, or institution.” 

 Where propaganda scores is on magnifying made-up facts and gets the negative connotations from the wartime propaganda and Nazi Germany. Though its roots go back as far as  1622 when Pope Gregory XV formed  The Sacra Congregatio Christiano Nomini Propaganda (the Congregation for Propagating the Faith).  

Though propaganda suffers from a negative reputation, the basic difference between the two is the way they are utilised to secure strategic objectives. So do Propaganda and PR coexist? Well, considering the rise of social media and omnipresent journalists who are on lookout for slightest misleading facts. So, if a practitioner deliberately uses untrue facts or a version of facts, then journalism sleuths are bound to catch such a action. Even if they don’t then customers won’t put up with such a campaign for long and its ramifications would resound in the form of a backlash for the company.  

Are Propaganda and PR synonymous? The definition and interpretation varies with the context in which it is being used. PR industry has always tried to embrace code of ethics and hold itself by the highest standards. Propaganda meanwhile has been associated with campaigns which violate these principles. 

Watch a report by AlJazeera about U.S. media being curbed from reporting Iraq war

 

 

http://www.trankin.com/advisor/propaganda.asp  

http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/eppp-archive/100/202/300/mediatribe/mtribe95/propaganda.html  

http://www.hotwireprc.com/documents/Public%20Relations%20versus%20Propaganda.pdf

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Is there anything called ethics in PR?

Time and again, Public relations has been associated with all things unethical – lying, spin-doctoring, and even espionage. Many critics argue that there can be no ethical public relations because the practice itself is akin to manipulation and propaganda. Or how else would you justify those PR agencies who deal with the tobacco or ammunition clientele?!

There is considerable body of evidence to prove that modern PR practices have thrown ethics out of the window. To list a few popular spin doctors of the industry, Hill and Knowlton who have many a scandals in their kitty. Max Clifford, the famous media manipulator who honestly admits that telling a lie is sometimes necessary and he’s proud of being able to do that. Alastair Campbell, communicator, writer and strategist had a major role in justifying USA’s attack on Iraq.

 An unfortunate belief among many journalists, policy makers, and laymen is the belief that the term ‘public relations ethics’ is an oxymoron: either an unreal possibility, or smoke and mirrors to hide deception.

Take coca cola India for example. The fizz giant is struggling to brush away a series of scandals by trying to spin the facts and shed their responsibility. The bottling plants have been discharging toxic wastes into the sacred rivers; the only source of harvesting for the farmers, have reduced the underground water tables to an all time low and have been careless about pesticide traces in the beverage.

On the other hand, a fashion retailer deserves a mention in terms of being ethically and morally upright in their PR practices. I once presented a case study in my fashion PR class about Monsoon Accessorize which is now a global brand with 1000 stores. I have never come across a more environmentally responsible and socially contributing company ever. And hey, if twisting some facts and hiding some malice is what PRO is ought to do for a client, then I think it’s high time they learn from Monsoon.

But Simon Goldsworthy, a senior lecturer in PR, Westminster University says in an article in PR Week that, “BBC journalist Andrew Marr says we must all deviate from the truth every now and then – he says ‘a day of honesty would be enough to finish most of us’Could you imagine a world where PROs spoke freely about every single worry affecting their company? Of course not. It would be a foolhardy PR professional who would say a client has big problems.”

At times, telling a lie just becomes a necessary evil or a part of his duty towards the client. PRO owes full responsibility to keep up the reputation of his client at any cost.

Max Clifford Founder, Max Clifford Associates says in the PR Week February 2007, “The only mantra I work to is that your duty is to your client. If I’m not comfortable lying, I won’t do it, but there will be plenty of other agencies lining up to take the business. All PROs at all levels lie through their teeth. I lie on behalf of a cross-dressing MP, a prominent businessman who is having an affair with a man, and a gay footballer. Always the aim is to keep their identity out of the press. There’s only been one footballer who was revealed to be gay, and he hanged himself. I know the ruin that will befall these people if news gets out. Here the truth is destructive – I lie because there is no choice.”

The current state of ethics in public relations practice depends heavily on codes of ethics adopted by every company and individual practitioner. Truth as said is very relative. A former editor of The Observer once said, “There’s your truth, my truth, and then there’s the real truth.” It all boils down to an individual’s choice of how much can he compromise with his moral values and where does he choose to draw a line. Same stands true for a company.