CIPR moves to stiffen ethics guidelines as lobbying scrutiny intensifies

The industry is facing calls to strengthen guidelines on ethics and standards as scrutiny from regulators over PR and lobbying intensifies.

Good conduct: The CIPR is revising its lobbying code of conduct (Getty Images)
Good conduct: The CIPR is revising its lobbying code of conduct (Getty Images)

While the Government continues its consultation over a register of lobbyists, the CIPR has revealed that it is revising its code of conduct for members. The new code, which is expected to include specific ethical guidelines for lobbyists, is expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

Phil Morgan, director of policy and comms at the CIPR, told PRWeek: 'There is a great desire for PR to be more transparent, ethical and confident, and a code of conduct is one of the ways of doing this.'

The news comes during a period of growing scrutiny over the public affairs industry in the wake of The Independent's Bell Pottinger sting.

The Government's consultation began in January and UKPAC relaunched its register last week. However, a number of industry players claim that registration of lobbyists is not enough and that a list of ethical guidelines is needed within the public affairs sector.

At a meeting last week about the lobbying register, Helen Johnson, chairman of the APPC, said: 'A register in itself is not going to do a great deal on its own. One needs some guiding principles.'

Suggestions for new ethical guidelines include further transparency about the organisations that provide backing to campaigning groups.

The APPC currently offers the most direct lobbying guidelines, which include rules prohibiting lobbyists from having parliamentary passes.

However, the body only has 64 members, placing many consultancies out of its reach.

Graham McMillan, CEO of Open Road, said: 'If the new CIPR code of conduct does not ban payments to government officials and stop parliamentary passes being given out, then it should.'

For some, the only way to improve the image of lobbying is to enshrine a code of conduct in legislation. Darren Murphy, founder of The CentreGround, pointed to the reputational damage done to journalism by poor self-regulation in the light of the Leveson Inquiry, and called for 'something substantial' that the industry can use as a benchmark.

However, Ketchum Pleon MD of public affairs and corporate comms Jo-ann Robertson labelled the move as 'over the top' and 'unnecessary', voicing the concerns of other industry experts.

Also read: Industry body’s conduct code to focus on social media

How I see it

Jo-ann Robertson, MD, public affairs and corporate comms, Ketchum Pleon

It is so over the top at the moment and unnecessary. Everyone needs to calm down and wait to see what the Government comes up with at the end of its consultation. The industry needs to unite and communicate that lobbying is a professional service. This idea that it is a 'dark art' is ridiculous.

Nick Williams, Head of public affairs, Fleishman-Hillard

What people in public affairs want is a level playing field where the Government looks to regulate not only agencies but in-house people too. The codes of conduct that the CIPR or APPC create need to reflect this.

In numbers

233% Increase in hours spent by CIPR on members' disputes in 2010/11*

64 Members of the APPC, the self-regulatory body for PA consultants**

10% Firms that lobby professionally that are consultancies**

43% Support in a survey for a disclosure of meetings in a statutory register***

Source: *Phil Morgan, director of policy and comms, CIPR; **APPC website; ***CIPR survey.

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