The PR industry has got off pretty lightly during the current round of phone-hacking inspired media soul-searching.
But does it deserve more scrutiny? PRs nowadays probably outnumber journalists and their output is increasingly shaping the national debate.
The House of Lords warned last month that PR is “very much an unregulated activity” and suggested greater control is needed.
No-one is suggesting that PRs are all charlatans, any more than all journalists are hackers, but is greater regulation needed to stamp out excesses perpetrated by a few individuals?
Judging by Number Ten’s response to questions about ‘horsegate’ – it could learn a thing about ethics and media relations. But what about the rest of the industry?
In my experience, the vast majority of PRs are straight dealers. But I can think of a few of examples of sharp-practice.
I recall one individual from News International (no longer there) who called me a few weeks ahead of the surprise launch of Thelondonpaper in 2006 to let me know that rumours NI was planning a free title in London were wide of the mark.
On another occasion a freelance phoned me up to complain about alleged byline banditry at a national newspaper over the use of one of his stories – I put his allegations to the paper in question only for the source to call me back minutes later begging that I didn’t publish the piece. I can only assume that he had been given a ‘you’ll never work in this town again’ style dressing down by the paper’s PR.
It is routine for national press PR departments to ignore Press Gazette inquiries over stories which might reflect their organisations in a bad light. There is no onus on private companies – even ones involved in very public roles like news organisations – to answer press enquiries. This is unlike the public sector where, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, public authorities must answer journalists’ questions by law provided the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in secrecy. Perhaps big private organisations performing public functions should play by the same rules?
What do you think? We’d love to hear about any examples you have of PR sharp practice. Or of the opposite, if that has been your experience.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is currently reforming its code of conduct. Press Gazette would like to its bit to help.
Please email your thoughts to Press Gazette news editor Andrew Pugh – firstname.lastname@example.org – and we will publish the results and also put them to the CIPR.