Is there a public interest?

Agony uncle and University of Westminster's visiting professor of PR Trevor Morris gives it to you straight.

Trevor Morris: PRWeek's agony uncle
Trevor Morris: PRWeek's agony uncle

I know we’re supposed to respect clients’ confidences, but if a client was involved in something controversial like fracking or GM crops wouldn’t there be an overriding public interest in disclosing what it was up to? 

As part of due process and the law, any plans a client has will be disclosed in due course, so it would certainly not be your job to reveal them in advance. It can’t just dig a hole and start drilling or sow a field with GM crops without approval. If you think fracking or GM crops are wrong, you should ask not to work on the account or resign.

You would only be justified in breaching a client’s confidentiality if it was breaking the law and asked you to conceal it. You are a PR person, not a judge, lawmaker or priest. To leak information because you believe you know what constitutes an overriding ‘public interest’ would be unethical and arrogant.

Almost every area of business activity has its critics and there are plenty of people who believe fracking and GM crops are potentially very good news. The ‘public’ is not a monolithic body with one shared interest, but disparate groups of people with often differing interests. PR people can choose whether or not to represent those differing interests, but they are not trained, qualified, appointed or elected to make unilateral decisions about what constitutes the overall public interest. That is the role of politicians and judges. You are neither.

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