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The need for transparency and accountability in PR in a world of distrust

Ahead of a discussion as part of the CIPR International's AGM, committee member Emma Duke questions the role of public relations in re-establishing trust in our institutions.

In a world where technology has simultaneously made it easier to present (mis)information as fact and stretched journalists and their employers’ business models to new and uncomfortable realities, it would be really easy for us, as public professionals to blame the Tech Gods for a situation in which 40% of people surveyed globally said they were unsure how to tell whether information is true or not.

Politicians have done a pretty good job of damaging the trust that informs the democracy fundamental to the majority of systems of government across the world. Partly thanks to flawed decision-making during the Covid 19 pandemic and in some cases (and some out-right lies in certain cases), Carnegie found this year that the overwhelming majority of the English public do not trust that MPs (76%) or the UK government (73%) will make decisions that will improve their lives.

This vacuum in trust has been a fascinating journey to witness as a practitioner. The dynamic between PRs and journalists has changed, the need to find alternative routes to reach audiences when many are either not reading the news that our clients are quoted in or actively avoiding it. In some cases it’s entirely challenging to find a space or organization with enough trust associated with it to build relationships with.

Meanwhile the vacuum in governmental leadership experienced in many countries in recent years has provided a newly important role for the business leaders we support within our organisations and clients. Despite businesses grappling with societal issues such as Black Lives Matter and MeToo, and many falling foul, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer saw business solidify its position (for the fourth straight year, at 61%) as the world’s most trusted of the four collective institutions of government, business, NGOs and the media, with ‘My Employer’ beating them all at 77%.

As CIPR members, we all sign up to our code of conduct, we agree to deal honestly and fairly and uphold the reputation of the profession. I believe we need to go further in the current environment.

We need to ask ourselves what we are doing to actively rebuild trust in society. Do we have a role in helping the wider public fact-check their news and establishing who to trust and why? Are we talking 'truth to power'? What are we doing to confront the societal issues that make a difference to people's lives; listening to what customers, employees and other stakeholders are saying, ensuring that our leaders are too, to help rebuild trust and relationships? The role of media is to hold our systems of governance and leadership to account, what can we do to support news outlets in evolving their business models to make this role sustainable and more effective?

We will be discussing these questions and more at the CIPR International AGM on 20th October 2022, sign up here.


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