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March 10, 2011

PRSA: 'Right Thing' for PRs is Not to Deal with Tyrants — Financial Times Letter to the Editor

PRSA had a letter to the editor of the Financial Times published March 10, 2011, in response to a March 7, 2011, op-ed by columnist Philip Stephens exploring the nefarious consulting work performed by some firms on behalf of Libyna dictator Muammer Gaddafi. PRSA objected to Stephens' assertion that public relations consultants are “practiced in explaining how this or that African despot has been sorely misunderstood,” and pointed to the provisions of PRSA's Code of Ethics as an example of ethical work a majority of public relations professionals regularly produce on behalf of clients.

Letters: 'Right Thing' for PRs is Not to Deal with Tyrants
Published: March 10, 2011

Sir, Philip Stephens is right in calling out the dubious actions of governments, consultants and others who have attempted to appease and counsel Muammer Gaddafi (“A lucrative business in washing reputations," March 7). In the U.S., the consulting firm Monitor Group has sullied the good work of many ethical professionals by engaging in practices aimed at showing a softer and gentler side of Col Gaddafi; an effort many consider repugnant.
But Mr. Stephens’ remark that public relations consultants are “practised in explaining how this or that African despot has been sorely misunderstood” is misinformed. The truth of the matter is that the majority of public relations professionals provide services that have absolutely nothing to do with “washing” or “recasting” reputations.
Public relations places an emphasis on counselling reputable organisations and individuals in developing and maintaining beneficial relationships with concerned stakeholders. Col Gaddafi shows no inclination to embrace this fundamental concept; rather, with the aid of certain groups on both sides of the Atlantic, he appears to be most interested in manipulating those who find themselves associated, willingly or not, with him and his dictatorial regime.
The Public Relations Society of America’s code of ethics clearly delineates what comprises ethical public relations. Condensed to a single statement, these responsibilities say: “Do the right thing.”
Aiding a dictatorial tyrant in the fabrication of a false persona is not “the right thing” and most assuredly not the hallmark of ethical public relations.

Kirk Hazlett
Board of Directors
Public Relations Society of America
New York, NY, US

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