Anthony Hilton: Maitland unlucky over Deloitte flak

When a judge let rip into Deloitte last week for its misfeasance action against the Bank of England – over the collapse 15 years ago of banking group BCCI – I thought The Maitland Consultancy was unlucky to catch some of the flak.

Mr Justice Tomlinson accused Maitland (which had been retained by Deloitte, liquidator of BCCI) of briefing the press in a way calculated to put extra pressure on the bank – by being  unfairly selective in the documents and evidence it drew to journalists' attention. He alleged that the aim was to force the bank to settle out of court to avoid further bad publicity.

I was until this time unaware of any requirement for balance in the briefing provided by a  PR firm. The idea that such a requirement exists is as far fetched as expecting it to apply to the speeches  of prosecutors and defence counsels in the courtroom itself. 

My understanding has always been that the PR executive, like the barrister, is an advocate, whose skill lies in his ability to present his client in the best possible light – even when (indeed, especially when) he has only the most hopeless material to work with. Telling outright lies is obviously out of order. Selecting the facts that suit the case and could convince journalists is what the game is all about. 
It should be noted that this was not a case in which a naïve Bank of England had been put at a disadvantage. Not to put too fine a point on it, the bank has employed its own in-house PROs for 40 years or more – and in that time has proved highly skilled in using the press to divert criticism and advance its interests.

The greater pity would be if the judge's blast were to prompt Maitland to withdraw from this  area of PR. What happens in courtrooms during financial cases is often neglected because most newspapers are too under-resourced to cover trials that may run for months, or in this case, years. PR fulfils a valuable function in bringing some of this hidden information to the surface. Partially one-sided it may be, but such disclosure results in commentary and analysis of issues – which would otherwise have been ignored – to the benefit of media and audience alike.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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