PR trade body accused of censorship over bid to get columnist with criminal conviction dropped by The Drum

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations has been accused of censorship after seeking to get a website columnist sacked.

The group has called on The Drum to cut Richard Hillgrove (pictured) from its roster as a result of his previous convictions for tax fraud, claiming his appointment “brings the industry into disrepute”.

Hillgrove, founder and chief executive of PR firm 6 Hillgrove, was found guilty in May 2014 of two counts of tax evasion – totalling nearly £100,000.

He was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment, suspended for two years on each count, ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service and pay £5,000 in court costs.

Last month Hillgrove began writing a column for The Drum, in partnership with former lawyer Andrew Eborn.

The column, called Bang On, claims to “shine a bright light on the dark arts, debunking all the tricks and techniques behind the world’s biggest stories”.

CIPR president-elect Sarah Hall said the media news website’s appointment of Hillgrove as a columnist “does a disservice to the public relations industry”.

She said: “The CIPR is calling on The Drum to rethink its decision and work with us to champion ethics, integrity and professionalism to advance the communications industry and its status within society.

“The public relations profession is often criticised for not practising what it preaches and managing its own reputation.

“We have first-hand seen the damage that publicist Max Clifford has done to the business of public relations. We believe giving Mr Hillgrove a platform to speak on behalf of the public relations profession is equally damaging.

“The CIPR will continue to fight the corner of professionals and call out poor behaviour. We will also continue to promote the value of public relations as a management discipline to employers and the business community and expect our trade media to support us in this goal.

“What is good for the industry is good for us all.”

Hillgrove told Press Gazette that when he sought to join the CIPR in 2014 he was refused because of his work for Charles Saatchi, who was cautioned in 2013 for assualting his then wife Nigella Lawson.

Hillgrove said: “They never said it was because of HMRC.

“Andy Coulson, who was David Cameron’s spokesman, actually served a prison sentence and he is still a member of the PR industry. Are they going to carry out a tarring and feathering of particular individuals because of their brushes with the law?”

Hillgrove said the CIPR is attacking him because his last column attacked the PR industry’s role in fake news. It noted Bell Pottinger’s alleged contract with the Penatagon to create fake Al Qaeda videos so the US government could track who was watching them.

Hillgrove said Bell Pottinger is among the most active members of the CIPR.

He said: “It’s censorship. PR has been about fakery for years. But they have to protect their own. If someone in the PR industry steps out of line they gang up on you and beat you up in an alleyway.”

Hillgrove said he objected strongly to the comparison with Max Cliffod, the publicist who is currently in prison for sexual assaults on teenagers.

He said: “I had a questionable brush with the law. The sentence was suspended by the judge for good reason.”

Picture credit: Ki Price

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