2020 will be a year to defend PR ethics

December 19, 2019

The recent general election was dominated by Brexit and a very presidential style of campaigning, with both candidates trying to capture support for their “brand” of politics.

But another issue came to the fore when the main party leaders went head to head in the ITV debate.

The Conservative Party Twitter handle changed the name to resemble a “fact checking” website.

Immediately it began tweeting out propaganda points designed to undermine the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn.

Despite claims by CCHQ that it was “obvious” it was still a Tory channel because the actual handle was unchanged, many took to Twitter to slam the controversial move.

Anyone who uses Twitter will have noticed that leading commentators have been changing their names to signify an allegiance to a particular political party.

This is good PR – message reinforcement as people read your threads. But it will also be to improve their standing in the search rankings when people look for key terms.

That is precisely the reason why CCHQ made this change – to dupe the public into believing that their messaging was objective rather than politically bias and to appear higher up in searches on ‘fact checking’ during the TV debate.

PR is all about trying to present clear convincing messaging in order to persuade the public or influence behaviour change.

There are so many examples of great ethically sound PR which does just this.

Representing the NUJ, I had the honour of presenting the Ethics and Diversity award at the #UnAwards19 – a celebration of public sector PR.

I had discussions with dozens about ethics in the sector and the general feeling was that 2020 presented a threat to good practice.

Popular outlets and political parties have a special duty to uphold the highest standards.

How else do communication workers and journalists distinguish themselves from trolls and fake news outlets?

If we cannot do our work properly it is a threat to our standards and potentially to our livelihoods as people rely on companies to hire trained professionals for output.

The kind of behaviour exhibited by CCHQ could give confidence to others to try the same trick.

One thing I emphasied at the UnAwards was that the union is place where we can uphold our values, through the NUJ code of conduct.

In an era where fake news has muddied the waters between fact, honest opinion, spin and outright lies, it is vital we build a strong union for PR professionals and communication workers of all kinds.

We must be the union that defends terms and conditions and the very highest of standards in our industry.

  • John Millington is Chair of the NUJ London and PR Communications branch. He writes this in a personal capacity.

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