Opinion: 'Tis the season to beware PR pitfalls

As the festive multi-coloured light displays are switched on and the decorations go up, council PROs must heed the advent of the 'politically correct madness' story season. There is a good chance that PROs could dig themselves, or fall into, a journalist's trap.

You may well remember the stories from last year: ‘Council bans Christmas', ‘Scrooge takes over the town hall' and ‘Christmas cancelled to avoid upsetting Muslims' were among the more lurid.

None of these stories turned out to be what they first appeared, and my initial reaction was one of amusement. But my smile soon faded when I realised that it is not just council A or B that takes a knock from such coverage, but the reputation of local government as a whole.

The PR pitfalls of celebrating Christmas in a multi-cultural society are minimal, providing authorities aren't afraid to recognise and embrace all religions practised in its communities. The councils that ‘banned Christmas' by replacing Christmas lights or decorations with ‘festive' lights, however, walked into an foreseeable trap.

So when a journalist rang last year to ask if we had festive lights in Bradford, we were wise to the trick. We answered: ‘No, but we are proud to have Christmas lights as well as Deepawali, Eid and Vaisakha lights.' The journalist mumbled ‘thanks' and resumed the hunt for an unwitting victim elsewhere.

Bradford is a really exciting, vibrant and interesting place, partly because of its varied people and cultures. But also because of its rural landscape, listed buildings, world heritage site, and because it contains some of Britain's best parks. It is a shame that some journalists only get in touch because we have a large ethnic minority population. 

The season of peace and goodwill to all is upon us. Let's hope this year that councils try their utmost to make sure all ethnic and religious communities are included, and feel welcome to celebrate their religious festivals openly.

My New Year's resolution will be to try harder to sell Bradford's less well-known attributes to the media. Wish me luck.

Duncan Graham is head of marketing, communications and tourism at Bradford Council

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