Friday, November 30, 2007

Inside Spin, by Bob Burton

Interestingly, I read an article recently that said the ABC show Media Watch would be concentrating more on PR spin next year. Someone must have been reading Bob Burton’s book, Inside Spin. In fact, the last few pages of the book give a few tips to journalists on what kind of stories they should be pursuing.

The title is pretty self-explanatory. The book takes you behind the scenes of various PR campaigns, only the tip of the ice berg we are told. It seems there is no industry that does not employ PR practitioners nowadays, whether it be drug companies, food companies, tobacco companies. The list is endless. Plus government also employs lots of PR people. Shows like channel seven’s Border Control get final approval from the government.

The take away from this book is the realisation that so much language that is out there in the media is pure PR concoction. Sure we all flippantly say, yeah, we know how things work in the media, and we know when we’re having the wool pulled over our eyes. However, when you have it all pulled apart and you can see for yourself where the sound-bites and slogans are coming from, it’s quite scary. I’m sure that the modern phenomenon of PR would fascinate and appal George Orwell, who took a keen interest in language.

I must admit to finding bits of this book quite dull, hence I guess the short review. There are long sections where you have to follow long trails of who said and did what, etc. etc. But that’s just me with my poor concentration span. Other readers may find it more riveting.

Having said that, I hope that more attention is paid to exposing where our so-called ‘information’ is coming from, so we can sift the wheat from the chaff. As Bob Burton says, it is important in a well functioning democracy that PR campaigns be exposed for what they are.
At the moment the industry is rife with secrecy. PR practitioners like to keep things low key. Any enterprising journalist looking for inspiration and ideas for stories would be well served by picking up a copy of this short, pithy book.

Bob Burton works as a freelance journalist and the editor of sourcewatch.org.

1 comment:

Tracy Jones said...

I wish everyone interested in PR would read Bob Burton's book to remind them why they should only work with PR practitioners who are members of the Pulic Relations Institute of Australia.

Burton’s obsession with the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s Code of Ethics reminds us how difficult it can be to hold individuals to account in our modern litigious society.

Unlike Burton though, the PRIA is confident that public relations in Australia is growing in professionalism, stature and commitment to ethical behaviour.

PR in Australia is not regulated by law. This means that unlike doctors, lawyers or accountants, practitioners cannot be thrown out of the industry for unprofessional, unlawful or unethical behaviour.

Unless, of course, they are members of the Public Relations Institute of Australia – the only body that can hold practitioners to account.

The key, therefore, to increasing professionalism and ethical behaviour among public relations practitioners in Australia is to ensure more of them become members of the PRIA – a task we have undertaken with great success in recent times.

The PRIA has grown by 30 per cent over the past three years and all indications are that this trend will continue. We now represent more than a quarter of public relations professionals in Australia compared to less than 20 per cent four years ago.

Moreover, we are seeing organisations looking to the PRIA for guidance in lifting professional standards. Since becoming national President of the PRIA in October, I have been approached by two large employers of PR professionals investigating the potential to insist on PRIA membership as a condition of employment.

Under these circumstances, loss of PRIA membership for a breach of the Code of Ethics starts to become less of a “slap on the wrist” and more of an obstruction to working or doing business.

While ever public relations remains a self-regulated profession, our best hope for bringing practitioners to account is to ensure the initials MPRIA or FPRIA after someone’s name is a mark of commitment to the highest standards of practice and professionalism.

When you choose a member of the Public Relations Institute as an employee or a consultant, you are choosing a professional who commits annually to a Code of Ethics and to continuing their professional education and development.

Tracy Jones
National President
Public Relations Institute of Australia