PR and ethics – that is a very delicate topic. Most people consider public relations practitioners to be rather ruthless with a flexible moral definition. This can be related to the image that people get about PR from the movies but probably also to the fact that if public relations are in the news, it is always about some sort of scandal that they are involved in and or that they somehow tried to cover up.
A few weeks ago, the famous PR consultancy Bell Pottinger was accused of editing Wikipedia entries to be favorable of their clients. Technically, there is nothing wrong with updating information on Wikipedia so it is accurate and up to date. However, if a PR firm does this for one of their clients, it raises the question of how objective those changes can be and if ethically a PR firm should even do something like this.
Now, the largest body for PR professionals in the UK, the CIPR, is determined to change this ethical grey area by working together closely with Wikipedia and WikipediaUK to introduce guidelines on how and what PR firms can and should edit on Wikipedia. This should improve transparency and bring PR further away from the bad image it sometimes has, as CIPR CEO Jane Wilson states:
” It is not only important [the PR companies] are upfront about who they are and their intentions, but they should seek to deal openly and honestly with the public at all times. This rules out any behaviour that sets out to hide the true source or motivation for any updates. PR without transparency is unprofessional. It has less to do with the ‘dark arts’ and more to do with the dark ages.”
This is definitely a step into the right direction for Public Relations to become more open, transparent and to get away from the manipulative image they tend to have sometimes.