“There is no religion higher than truth.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The truth and nothing but the truth is a commitment on offer to communicators and public relations practitioners across the world.
Signing up to and practicing a professional code of ethics is only part of the daily challenge.
A European seminar dedicated to opening up the ethics debate among PR and communication practitioners tested the concept of whether it is ethical to lie if it serves the greater good.
The debate was generated by a high-profile publicist and an academic promoting the premise of: If you are not prepared to lie occasionally, you cannot do your job properly. The publicist told how he went to major companies with a lie to generate money for a fund to support the victims of a savings scheme collapse. The companies were each told the lie—that another company was about to launch a rescue fund—prompting them to take the initiative.
The event attracted a 350-strong audience and led to surprise and disappointment among communication and PR circles. A motion that “PR has a duty to tell the truth” was defeated by 138 votes to 124.
The debate was delicately balanced between those called “on the side of the angels” and “the pragmatists.”
The pragmatists won on the proposition that it is ethical to use a “white lie” if it serves a good purpose. One asked, “Are journalists, lawyers—and even priests—not guilty of committing the very same sin in the course of their daily work?”
The “angels” saw truth and integrity as the cornerstones of the PR profession if it is to have any credibility with the media and the wider world. Their comments varied from “PR should be a force for transparency and good in public life”—to some outside the industry confirming their worst prejudice: “that PR equals spin and deception.”
Others thought lying is simply not sustainable in the long term,...
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