Last week, FEMA held a press conference in which its own public relations people posed as reporters asking questions; real members of the media were allowed only to listen in by phone. It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic. (But feel free to laugh along with fellow Indianapolis blogger Erik Deckers at Laughing Stalk.)
Idiots like these folks at FEMA may call themselves PR professionals, but no one else should. They don’t deserve the label.
As disappointed as I am in their actions, though, I’m more disappointed in the official written response of the Public Relations Society of America:
30 October 2007
MEDIA ADVISORY: PRSA Responds to FEMA News Conference Incident New York, NY (Oct. 29, 2007) — To prevent deceptive practices and to advocate for honest and accurate communications, the 32,000-member Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) put forward its Code of Ethics today to address issues raised by the Oct. 23 news conference where Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employees appeared to pose as reporters. PRSA, the world’s largest organization for public relations professionals and students, outlined its PRSA Code of Ethics, a unique set of principles that has become the industry standard for ethical practice by communications professionals in the private and public sectors. The Code is developed and maintained by the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards.
Nowhere in its press release does PRSA clearly state its opposition to a PR person lying about being a journalist.
The PRSA Code of Ethics includes the admonitions to “act promptly to correct erroneous communications” and “preserve the integrity of the process of communication.”
In that vein, then, PRSA shouldn’t have been afraid to issue a press release that said, “These people engaged in unethical practices and have forfeited the right to be called public relations professionals. We do not condone in any way what they did.”
Then, by all means, share the code. But first, say what you mean.