Professor James Grunig
Statement for the European Communication Convention: “Fake news” and “alternative facts” seem to be common in U.S. political discussions these days. The question of what is news and what are facts has always been relative and not fixed. In other words, different people think that different events, activities, or statements are important, and facts always are perceived differently by different people. Public relations professionals and the organizations and people they represent often believe that they are providing factual news and are being truthful when their publics or journalists believe otherwise. Given that news and facts are relative, however, public relations people often are tempted to take advantage of this relativity by intentionally trying to deceive their publics or the media—the result is fake news and alternative facts. I believe there are two important ethical principles that can help public relations people overcome this temptation. These principles are accountability and disclosure. First, we should always be accountable for our actions and advise our clients to be accountable for what they do. Take responsibility. Don’t blame others. Don’t try to cover up misbehaviors. Second, we should disclose, as actively and truthfully as we can, how we have behaved and why we behaved in that way. If we or our clients behave badly, we should admit it and explain what will be done to rectify our actions. Only in that way can we build trusting relationships with the publics we affect or that expect us to serve them.
James E. Grunig
Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland USA