Opinion: Charter status for IPR would be good for all

Would having Royal Charter status mean much to the UK PR industry? The IPR certainly thinks so and has formally applied to the Privy Council, which could grant the status by 2005. I'm in favour of applying for a traditional symbol of royal endorsement, chiefly because I think that the 'profession' of PR is and ought to be about the highest and most transparent standards.

Some say that achieving and then publicising Royal Charter status is little more than a stunt, a technique borrowed from the worst branch of the PR tree - spin. But endorsement from relevant quarters can only be a positive thing. Judging by the popularity of industry awards and the year-on-year rise in applications for, say, the PRWeek Awards, a seal of approval from peers is well worth having.

Critics of the IPR's desire to be chartered apply the 'fig leaf' argument, namely that any amount of pomp cannot disguise the essentially fickle nature of PR - a business that will take anyone's case and advocate it through the media and other channels for the right price.

But the IPR is the only trade body I know with the word 'integrity' in its code of conduct. Furthermore, IPR fellow Dejan Vercic pointed out to the IPR's AGM in a speech to mark the chartered status application: 'There never has been and there never will be a closed society with PR... PR provides an essential component of a contemporary, free society.'

It is up to the PR industry to show that it understands the fundamental obligations of 'proper' PR, namely practising according to the sensible and workable IPR code of conduct, and continuing to raise the reputation and performance of PR against our competitors and peers in advertising, marketing and, of course, journalism.

The current battle for credibility in all media disciplines has never been greater. Advertising is under heavy ethical fire with the obesity debate and journalism is having a major wobble with its fundamentals under review, such as through the BBC as a result of the Hutton Inquiry, or by the criticism of commentators such as the Financial Times's John Lloyd, who calls for a 'civic journalism' in his new book.

Chartered status can only draw attention to our industry, which is sharpening up its act in a big way, and that is good news for all of us.

Julia Hobsbawm is professor of public relations at the London College of Communication. Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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