I can’t get too excited about the headline selected by PR Week to report the ethics debate it held involving Max Clifford amongst others. The motion was apparently “does PR have a duty to tell the truth” which was defeated 53% to 47% (out of 262 votes).
Ethics is a complex topic and neither truth nor honesty are absolutes. I cannot argue with the view from Clifford that lying is sometimes necessary to achieve the greatest good. But surely it depends what you are lying about and who determines what the greatest good might be.
I’ve heard that Clifford feels lying to the media about whether a footballer is gay is okay – but in that case, surely the greatest good is that the media stop viewing “outing” as a big deal and that football stops being prejudiced against homosexuality in the game.
That’s entirely different to expecting military PR to be honest and transparent about the exact location and duties of Prince Harry when he is deployed in Iraq. That doesn’t necessariily involve lying, but is different to having a duty to tell the truth.
If we are going to have the necessary debate about ethics in public relations – and public communications in general – then it deserves better than a straw poll on the front page of PR Week.