Paul Holmes

Accreditation for PR, journalism would limit number of participants in public discussion

Accreditation for PR, journalism would limit number of participants in public discussion

If you discuss professional standards in PR long enough, sooner or later the issue of licensing will come up.

One of the things that differentiates PR people from other professionals - most notably, lawyers and accountants - is that PR people don't need to pass an exam or acquire any specific qualification or credential that gives them the right to practice. Anyone can decide to put the words "public relations consultant" on a business card and offer advice to clients.

There are those within the business who cite the absence of any mandatory accreditation as a weakness, one of the reasons PR does not get the respect (or the compensation) of some rival disciplines. The lack of licensing means that people like Lizzie Grubman can be described as PR people, and there's nothing the rest of us can do about it except complain.

I'm as enthusiastic about higher standards in PR as the next person, and I'd certainly like to see PR counsel taken as seriously as legal and financial advice. But I will never accept licensing as the answer. Law is practiced in a very specific venue and according to very specific rules. But relating to the public is something that goes on all the time. Every word a firm utters, every action it takes, impacts its relationships with the public. If only licensed PR people can practice, we diminish the definition of what PR is and create the illusion that it's the job of a single individual or department, rather than the entire company.

Just as important, PR is about dialogue, about participation in public debate. And the ability to participate should be available to all. At the end of the day, I'm against licensing PR people for the same reason I'm against licensing journalists: I believe the free-speech benefits of allowing anyone to participate in either profession are too important to compromise just to raise standards.

Which brings me to the ongoing debate about whether bloggers qualify as journalists. My answer to that question is an unequivocal yes.

There's no professional license needed to practice journalism and, contrary to some of the high-minded pabulum spewing forth from mainstream journalists, no particular rights or responsibilities that accrue to professional journalists that do not exist for ordinary citizens with an opinion to express. There is no legal requirement that either mainstream journalists or bloggers submit their work to an editor, allow for corrections, or meet some subjective standard of objectivity - only a marketplace requirement, which suggests that the more trustworthy and transparent the journalism process is, the greater the trust it will inspire from readers.

That's as it should be.

  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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