Opinion: CIPR's code of conduct is unenforceable

The recent move by the CIPR to strengthen its largely non-existent disciplinary hold over practitioners (PRWeek, 17 November) are well intentioned, but inappropriate.

As I have argued before, good PR advisers are worth the same fees as top accountants and lawyers. After all, reputation is a fragile commodity, and enhancing or protecting it entails a rare combination of skill, contacts, creativity and timing. And those who do so are expected to provide professional and con­fidential services delivered with integrity.

But this does not mean that the imposition of codes of conduct akin to those binding lawyers and accountants will make the PR industry more valued. This is because those other professions have their regulation vested in ­entry qualifications, with clear barriers to entry for potential practitioners, something of which the PR industry isdevoid. But there is no likelihood of all practitioners signing up to a code imposed by a body to which they need not belong.

Also, The Law Society and the Institute of Chartered Accountants have full powers of discipline via codes of conduct largely based on the law of the land. Yet there is no PR ‘sin' of equal legal gravity to perjury, withholding evidence or false accounting.

CIPR suggestions that practitioners could be charged under its strengthened code for lying to journalists, or breaching clients' confidences, are unenforceable. Securing a ‘guilty verdict' would be impossible without calling the journo in question.

In the case of ‘lying', to do so would mean advertising to the ­media such an alleged breach, which would merely invite ridicule and heightened suspicion of PROs.

In the case of ‘breach of confidence', the journalist's code of ‘omertà' - ie protection of a source - precludes honest evidence from the journalist. Thus any ‘conviction' would be impossible or unjust - or both.

In practice, the PRCA and CIPR codes yield few complaints from clients. This is because the simple remedy of sacking an agency is preferable to involvement in onerous quasi-judicial proceedings. The fact is, PR depends on a measure of spin, in which truth can be a many-splendoured thing.

Instead of codes, a more simple way of ensuring quality delivery to the highest standards lies in the contracts.

Including clauses undertaking confidentiality and accurate representation of client interests is fairly straightforward, as is defining the services to be delivered against fee and time.

Surely this approach offers a richer seam for those seeking transparent integrity?

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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