We’re not the enemy, Chris

Public Relations Institute of Australia President Shane Allison calls out editor-in-chief of The Australian, Chris Dore for saying, "[PR professionals] are employed to stop us actually finding out information".

I had the opportunity to listen to editor-in-chief of The Australian, Chris Dore’s inaugural The Editor’s Lecture at the Judith Nielsen Institute for Journalism and Ideas over the weekend, available in podcast form, YouTube or in The Australian.

It’s a thought-provoking talk about the role of journalism, News Corp and the public sphere today and well worth the time for communicators to catch up on.

However, in the Q&A, Chris takes a swipe at the Public Relations and Communications profession in a way which can only be described as poor form for an editor with significant sway over the attitudes of journalists across Australia.

In sharing an anecdote about exchanges with the leaders of large companies, he shared: “They [PR professionals] are employed to stop us actually finding out information.”

Talk about shooting the messenger.

Public Relations and communication professionals are a conduit for information between organisations and the public, helping to prepare, share and disseminate relevant news, while building trust with stakeholders and managing reputational risk.

This often sees PR and communication professionals going into bat for the interests of journalists, helping to uncover information and find the right person to answer an arcane technical question.

The question that communicators most often ask is how can we share this information – not how can we cover it up.

There are times PR and communication professionals find themselves caught in a wedge, between a journalist desiring a good yarn and an organisation that culturally, refuses to be transparent and desires the communicator to obfuscate or lie on their behalf.

I personally haven’t, and no communication professional worth their salt would ever advise this as a sensible strategy – as we all know that the cover up is often worse than the crime – see Watergate, the Obeids and Utegate to name a few examples.

That’s not to say that there aren’t issues.

Poor practice does exist, and we do our best to hold it to account and stop it. I still remember vividly a discussion about taking on Big Un as a client (pre-collapse), and after very little discussion deciding that if Johnathan Shapiro had a case going, he was most likely on the money. He was. While Big Un did end up with PR representation, but they probably didn’t understand the accounting any better than investors.

Lies are told. Truth can be obscured. But pity the communication professional who believes that this is sustainable.

Contemporary references with our Prime Minister provide ample room for Dore to see that the power of PR and communication professionals to stop information getting out is limited. Morrison in Hawaii, Morrison flying home for Father’s Day while Sydney was in lockdown – even the photoshopped shoes.

The truth is, no ethical communication professional would tell a lie or act to deliberately obscure a known fact, as facts don’t go away – they come out eventually. Behaviour like this destroys your reputation with media, with peers and with the public.

That’s why point three of the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s code of practice deals with this explicitly. That:

“members shall not knowingly disseminate false or misleading information and shall take care to avoid doing so inadvertently.”

Dore’s alleged crimes against our industry fall well outside the expected behaviour of PR and communication professionals.

While we might not have the broad ranging powers of the Law Council or Chartered Accountants, our members, and communicators more broadly, take this responsibility incredibly seriously, because as experts in protecting reputations – we know the value of ours.

However, it would be silly to pretend that there aren’t bad apples. Just like there are journalists with more integrity than others, there are with more integrity than others. But you can’t paint us all with the same tarnished brush.

We’re not the enemy Chris.


Shane Allison, CEO, Public Address, President, Public Relations Institute of Australia


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