Current research investigating whether and why communication management professionals are on occasion lying to the media to protect their organisations, clients or CEO’s, is causing a stir in the public relations and corporate communication environments.
Prof Ronél Rensburg, Head of the Communication Management Division, has delivered a conceptual paper at the annual BledCom 2015 Conference in Slovenia, entitled ‘Lying to protect the organisation and CEO: an occupational hazard?’. The paper and initial research amongst 20 southern African communication professionals have re-emphasised the power that communication wields in organisations. The research is now continuing amongst larger samples in South Africa.
Rensburg’s research topic has been covered by the International Business Times (September 2015) in an article entitled ‘Are all publicists liars? Study ignites controversy in PR field’, as well as earlier in the USA’s PR Week (August 2015). The research is currently being debated in media monitoring service CyberAlert and by professional communication management associations across the world. The recent worldwide corporate scandals in FIFA and Volkswagen, as well as local issues like Nkandla and Hitachi in South Africa, further illustrate how corporate lying can infect not only the reputations of powerful enterprises, but also the communication management profession.
From the very start of their careers, communication management professionals learn three universal realities about dealing with the media: do not lie to the media, do not hide facts from the media, and do not say “no comment”. Ideally communication management professionals should inform their organisations and CEO’s to avoid hiding, varnishing or embroidering facts, particularly where the media is concerned. Yet lying and deception for and on behalf of organisations and their leaders are becoming endemic. Now more than ever before – with the omnipotence of social media – communication professionals can blur the faint lines between being truthful and lying.