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PR’s role in the biggest election year in history

Emma Duke, CIPR committee member and Fellow, asks what Public Relations practitioners can do to address the anticipated rise in mis- and dis-information this year.

This year, 49% of the population of the entire world will have the opportunity to take part in an election. I Googled the list for this blog post – trust me, it’s long.

There are some biggies in there too: India, the US, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa. There are big decisions to be made, at a time when we’re still suffering the after-effects of a global pandemic (economically, systemically, physiologically and psychologically), we’re entering a climate emergency, multiple wars are impacting entire populations and big questions are being asked about what equality looks like and who holds the power at a geopolitical level now?

So there are some big questions to be asked of voters as they (hopefully, in an unfettered way), walk into their polling booths. But wait, we’re also in the midst of a ‘Crisis of Truth’. Mis- and dis-information are proliferating, partly thanks to the increase in access to, and use of, AI tools.

So what can we do as PR professionals to support the democratic process wherever we are in the world?

Media literacy

The UN has identified media literacy as ‘a key skill for the education of 21st-century citizens’; re-emphsised by Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Flemming in the recent Maggie Nally Memorial lecture. When we are deluged by political messaging, it has never been more crucial to be able to separate fact from disinformation. While UNESCO has created an annual Global Media and Information Literacy Week, as media professionals we have both the context and access to equip those around us to be able to make sense of the barrage of election ‘news’.

Lobbying ethics

It seems an obvious point for a Chartered Body to make, but the CIPR has commissioned and taken part in multiple pieces of research and thought leadership on the need for better transparency in UK political lobbying recently; a principal that can be interpreted globally. When global trust in politicians and political systems are at such low levels, surely we should champion progress in this area?

News avoidance

The news media has traditionally informed citizens in a democratic society, held leaders to account - it has also represented a major route for PR professionals to each their audiences (for better or worse). We are now in a situation where trust in the media is at historically low levels and news avoidance is rife. Ironically the result of, and resulting in, the decline of the media sector globally; posing new opportunities and challenges for Public Relations professionals. Is the answer to partner with news media to renew trust? If so, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has some good ideas


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