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September 01, 2011

PRSA: PR Counsel for Dictators is 'Against the Ethical Tenets of Modern PR' — Financial Times Letter to the Editor

In a Sept. 1, 2011, letter to the editor ofThe Financial Times, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) addresses the ethical implications of American public relations firms representing dictatorships and repressive governments. The letter is in response to an Aug. 30, 2011, FT article in which Peter Brown, president of the Manhattan-based public relations firm Brown Lloyd James, defends his firm’s work to “improve American public opinion about the ruling families of Libya and Syria.”

Letters: Against All the Tenets of Modern PR
Published: Sept. 1, 2011

From Ms Rosanna M. Fiske.

Sir, Manhattan public relations firm Brown Lloyd James, and its president Peter Brown, may have had good intentions when it counselled the Libyan government (“Ex-Beatles aide defends work done for the regime”, August 30). However, the firm’s work to “improve American public opinion about the ruling families of Libya and Syria” is distinctly against the ethical tenets of modern public relations.
We believe every person or organisation has the right to have its voice heard in the global marketplace of ideas. But for PR firms to represent dictatorships that do not afford that same freedom to their own people is disingenuous towards the liberties of a democracy and to democratic societies’ reputations as marketplaces for dissenting ideas. Mr Brown’s statements diminish the credibility of the global public relations industry by making the peculiar claim that he would “love to take on Iran as a client” and that he sees “areas of commonality that ought to be exploited”. One can find little commonality between a democratic American public and the dictatorship of the Iranian government.
Ethical public relations places an emphasis on counselling reputable organisations and individuals in developing and maintaining beneficial relationships with concerned stakeholders. Given that Colonel Muammer Gaddafi showed no inclination to embrace this fundamental concept, despite BLJ’s efforts, we question the value the firm offered the American public in its attempt to reveal a more nuanced picture of the Libyan government. Most disturbingly, the work has insulted the very freedoms that allowed BLJ and similar firms to engage in such questionable services in the first place.
Even if the US government was working at the time to repair relations with Libya and Syria, we would hope that American public relations firms would uphold higher ethical standards in the clients they represent.
Rosanna M. Fiske
Chair and Chief Executive
Public Relations Society of America
New York, NY, US

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