What does transparency really mean?

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 keep hearing the term ‘transparency’ used in media and PR circles. But I notice that whenever something interesting comes up at meetings people – my boss included – ask for it not to be minuted or find other ways of keeping controversial stuff secret. What do you think transparency really means for PR people?

Transparency is what the Institute for Propaganda Analysis would have called "a glittering generality". Other popular glittering generalities are: democracy, freedom of speech, community, public interest and being customer-focused.

These are all things of which just about everyone wants to proclaim they are in favour. The trouble is that, for example, your idea of freedom of speech may not be another’s, particularly if it clashes with their right to privacy or desire not to hand competitive advantage to rivals. Charities and NGOs like to demand transparency of business and government, though most are themselves quite opaque. Ultimately it is best to measure transparency by what people do, not what they say.

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