Ultimately, the source of our problems lies at the level of the individual. If people lack moral values and integrity, no system of laws and regulations will be adequate.
~ Dalai Lama, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World
The power of communications is enormous. From media relations and crisis communications to publicity and social media, we have the ability to develop and execute campaigns that change minds and influence behaviour. The work we do has an impact on audiences – big and small.
All public relations and communications professional associations have Codes of Ethics that set out the values and the standards to which professional communicators can be held. I belong to, and am accredited by, the International Association of Business Communicators. It’s Code of Ethics, “serves as a guide to making consistent, responsible, ethical and legal choices in all of our communications”. In fact, the accreditation exam I wrote had an entire section on ethics.
The first two statements in the Code are all about being honest and accurate in our communications:
- I am honest—my actions bring respect for and trust in the communication profession.
- I communicate accurate information and promptly correct any errors.
I have had countless interactions with journalists in my career. I have always believed that honesty is the best policy in responding to their questions. Even when the truth is not pretty, doing the right thing will minimize damage to your organization’s reputation. It will also keep your personal professional reputation intact.
It also doesn’t serve you well to get into an argument with a journalist or the media. As the old saying goes, never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.
And don’t fool yourself. Journalists are not afraid to call out communicators who are being less than truthful or argumentative with them. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Anderson Cooper has focused his Keeping Them Honest segment on the contradictory statements from the White House podium on the Rob Porter domestic violence crisis. CNN’s media critic, Brian Stetler, put together a video that demonstrates Cooper’s point exactly.
The recently released 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer found that trust in the United States suffered the largest-ever-recorded drop in the survey’s history. The collapse of trust was driven by a staggering lack of faith in government. Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman said the, “root cause of this fall is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse”. The survey also found that, “nearly seven in 10 respondents worry about fake news and false information being used as a weapon”.
As communicators we have to recognize the power we wield and hold ourselves to a higher standard. I have always believed in doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. We need to set the bar high, lead by example and restore trust in our profession and institutions.