Platform: Taking the wider view of PR into account - Any organisation which has a responsiblity to either stakeholders, members or the public needs to be accountable, says Simon Lewis

We are living in extraordinary times. The political landscape is changing dramatically. We are likely to see changes in our constitution and the ramifications of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, are still to be fully understood. Although it is easy to draw conclusions from these events, we may look back in five years time and see them in a totally different light.

We are living in extraordinary times. The political landscape is

changing dramatically. We are likely to see changes in our constitution

and the ramifications of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, are

still to be fully understood. Although it is easy to draw conclusions

from these events, we may look back in five years time and see them in a

totally different light.



If there is a thread which connects these developments and events, it is

accountability. We are moving firmly from an era in which organisations

and institutions did not have to either explain themselves or, when

necessary, defend themselves, into an era when transparency and openness

will be taken for granted.



One of the driving forces behind the ’people power’ which was so

graphically illustrated in the immediate aftermath of the death of Diana

is an irritation and impatience with institutions which are not prepared

to be accountable.



The reaction of the monarchy in the days before the funeral showed how

an institution can be moved by such expectations of change.



The issue of accountability is not, however, the preserve of our most

ancient institutions. A modern government must be prepared to be

accountable, not just to the people who elected it, but to the wider

society in which it operates.



Some of the early moves by the Government have shown how important this

trend will be in the future and, in political terms, accountability

means making decisions closer to the voters who provided the mandate in

the first place.



For the media there are some awkward questions to be asked about

accountability.



Who sets the editorial agenda for the press and television? Does the

media have responsibility to readers, its owners or to the wider

society? In the aftermath of the tragic events in Paris, there has been

much talk about the role of the paparazzi but the reality is that their

behaviour is a symptom, not a cause, of how the modern media works.



For the business community, accountability covers its relationships with

customers, staff, shareholders and the wider community. The moves to

make public companies more accessible and accountable to their

shareholders, small and large, is a good example of how this theme is

changing corporate practice.



We have also learnt that in an age of instant communications,

transparency can, for the person on the receiving end, be nothing short

of a nightmare.



For those of us who advise on communications the challenge is somewhat

different.



Our accountability is to our clients, our employers and to the wider

industry. We too have a responsibility to ensure that we operate in a

framework which is both responsible and acceptable to modern

society.



Our transparency as an industry should include who we work for and on

what basis and a preparedness to explain our actions on behalf of our

clients.



Increasingly, the role of the PR practitioner is to understand and

interpret the accountability of organisations. As the RSA Tomorrow’s

Company Inquiry made clear, there are obligations on businesses, in

particular, to explain their mission and purpose to all stakeholders.

The Pr industry is well placed to be an important part of this

development, which is why I have been keen to emphasis the importance of

accountability during my year as president of the IPR.



Simon Lewis, president of the Institute of Public Relations, will be

chairing the IPR conference in Manchester on 31 October/1 November.



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