Does PR have a duty to tell the truth?

What a topic for a debate! This took place at the University of Westminster in London last Tuesday:

Leading figures of the UK PR world are to hold a debate at the University of Westminster on whether ‘PR has a duty to tell the truth’.

The result? According to Martin Moore who was there:

PR does not have a duty to tell the truth…according to an audience of over 260 public relations executives (and me). 138 voted against the motion in last night’s PR Week sponsored debate that ‘PR has a duty to tell the truth’, vs 124 for.

Moore notes in his post that PR does not have a ‘duty’ to tell the truth but a duty to serve its client. Surely a confusing situation for any PR practitioner.

Here’s the definition of PR according to the CIPR:

Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

There’s nothing there about telling the truth. Now take a look at the CIPR’s code of conduct (or IABC’s code of ethics where the word ‘truthful’ is mentioned).

This may seem like quite an ethical dilemma, not to mention a sorry indictment of the PR profession. But it’s not really. The decision for you is crystal clear – if you know what you’re about to communicate is untruthful, you do not communicate. That applies whether you’re on the agency or on the client side.

Here’s the thing – while the ‘duty’ of PR might not be to tell the truth, the duty for you as a communicator is. Telling the truth and serving your employer’s/client’s interests are not mutually exclusive.

Does anyone disagree?

(Via Jeff Jarvis)