WSW protests reporter's contract to teach media relations to CHP

LOS ANGELES: In a move that highlights one of the oldest ethics

debates in PR, Weber Shandwick Worldwide is challenging a $25,000

contract won by a TV reporter to teach media relations classes to the

California Highway Patrol - an organization he covers in his day

job.



The PR agency's Los Angeles office, which also bid for the contract, has

protested to the California Department of General Services that it is

unethical for John Iander, a veteran reporter for KOVR Channel 13 in

West Sacramento, CA, to both cover the highway patrol and teach its

employees how to deal with the media.



The department is expected to rule on the September 26 challenge - which

also addresses questions of RFP procedure - by early December, according

to spokesman Ken Hunt.



Asked about quibbling over such a small contract, Eric Rose, WSW's

managing director for public affairs, said, "It should be obvious we're

pursuing this purely as a matter of principal, and not for its

commercial value." He declined to comment further.



Iander did not return phone calls. In his contract proposal, he details

his "wide range of major stories involving the highway patrol," and says

that since 1965, he has "conducted well over 500 interviews with members

of the California Highway Patrol." In a Sacramento Bee article, Iander

was reported to have said that he sees no ethical conflict because he

never uses information from his CHP contacts to get stories.



Tom Marshall, commander of public affairs for the highway patrol, said

Iander has been teaching crisis media techniques to middle and senior

management "on and off for 20 years. We don't feel it's any kind of a

conflict."



The incident may be most troubling from the viewpoint of journalistic

ethics. "My sense would be that a TV station that was being thoughtful

about this, even if it has no code of ethics, would have certain rules

of conduct for its employees," said James Carey, a Columbia School of

Journalism professor. "One is to avoid conflicts of interest."



Dan Mellon, general manager at KOVR, a CBS affiliate, did not return

calls seeking comment.



But the situation may also present a problem in terms of PR ethics,

especially with regard to the PRSA ethics code provision for "the free

flow of information." Robert Frause, chair of the PRSA Board of Ethics

and Professional Standards, declined to comment on this particular case,

but said generally, "The PRSA is concerned with preserving the

relationship between the media and public relations. We're concerned

with (blurring) the lines between the journalist side of the equation

and the advocacy role of PR."



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