Should Pros Dance to Journalists’ Tune? [analysis]

WHILE the relationship between Public Relations (PR) practitioners and journalists is well spelt out in respective textbooks, the situation on the ground might be different and can take various dimensions that might be repugnant to not only the professional ethics but also to the expectations of the other discipline and the general public.

The relationship between PR and journalists, therefore between PR practitioners and journalists is as old as Journalism itself. But such a relationship has had some turbulences and continue having such experiences at different times and situations.

Despite such turbulences that sometimes arise between PR practitioners and reporters, the two have mutual relationship and mutual benefit.

However, one of the PR practitioners in Lusaka called this writer to find out if PR practitioners should always dance to the tune of journalists or the former and the latter should have mutual relationship for mutual benefit of their respective organisations and the general public at large.

The PR practitioner concerned who spoke on anonymity for fear of endangering one’s official functions said although both print and electronic news media have a share to blame on how they conduct their duties with PR practitioners, it was more the television crew that seems to go beyond professional practice in the way they related with PR practitioners and their respective organisations.

The caller said while some print media reporters might just text the concerned PR practitioner to lobby for a token of appreciation for covering an organisation’s event, most television crew members will just call you and ask: ‘Where are you?’ And when you say something like: ‘ I am at Archades.’ The one of the television crew members would just say: ‘Ok. We are coming there just now.’

And then one wonders: ‘Coming here just now?’

The concerned PR practitioner wondered and asked: ‘Suppose one was just driving along Archades area on one’s way somewhere how would one attend to such a television crew and respond to logistical requests after stopping at Archades waiting for the respective television crew members who said they are coming there just now?’

The stated caller further wondered if television reporters will now be treating news sources the way police officers treat hard core criminals where one is ambushed on gun point at any time without any appointment for official discussions.

The caller also said although this column covered how PR practitioners could effectively relate with media organisations and reporters in particular, it is also important for the latter to know how best to relate with organisations and PR practitioners for sustained mutual relationship and mutual benefit.

Analysing such observations, one quickly concludes that such practices border on both journalism and PR ethics.

And the concerned called stated that while unethical practices among some journalists has reduced, there still some pockets of journalists who seem to be addicted to receiving bribes for their services.

Generally and basically, Journalism and PR ethics emphasise on being honest and objective in professional practice. They both discourage any form of bribery in journalism or in PR practice. What is also critical in Journalism and PR practices is that neither a Journalist nor a PR practitioner should be so personally close to the other that one’s official duties could be compromised.

So the relationship between PR practitioners and journalists should be cordial but not too personal to negatively affect official and professional practice relationship.

This is because professional PR practice needs professional Journalism practice and the latter also needs the former. PR needs reporters and their mass media organisations to disseminate specific messages to many different stakeholders in various geographical areas at once. PR cannot do this on its own. Without mass media, it can take organisations a long time and it can be too costly for each organisations to reach out to various stakeholders in different parts of the country to deliver respective messages.

Similarly, Journalism need PR (organisations) as sources of news. Without organisations (PR) providing information to reporters, the latter and their respective news media organisations can have nothing to fill their newspaper spaces or their radio or television airwaves. News media organisation can be redundant without sources of information (organisations).

This is why the relationship between PR and journalism is said to be symbiotic which means mutually beneficial for both organisations and news media.

It is against this background that PR practitioners are properly schooled in fine details about how best to relate with journalists for their respective organisations to achieve their communication objectives with their respective stakeholders.

Among such ways of relating with the reporters is that PR practitioners should make the work of reporters easy by providing relevant notifications and invitations to reporters, on one hand and providing objective, accurate and up-to-date information on time and in journalistic style to reporters.

Knowing each news media’s reporters and editors is critical to professional PR practice. PR practitioners are also supposed to know each news media organisation’s time and, in some cases, day deadlines. As it was stated in last week’s article on whether journalists are promoting negative images in organisations, PR practitioners and their respective top management are supposed to be pro-active to facilitate and promote effective media relations and positive publicity for their respective organisations.

Whatever the case may be, PR practitioners are not supposed to offer bribes to reporters or editors to entice the latter to write good stories about their respective organisations. Doing so is unethical in PR practice.

Similarly, receiving bribes from PR practitioners or their respective organisations to write a good story for such an organisation or for the good story that has already been published is unethical for journalism practice.

PR practitioners and journalists are relate as fellow human being both created in God’s Own image but not personally too close to each other to compromise their professional practice which hinges on being honest, objective, factual, fair and in the process promoting not only the integrity of the respective profession but also that of respective organisations.

It is unfortunate that such an issue has cropped up after information and broadcasting minister, Joseph Katema and many other concerned stakeholders have observed high unethical practices among some journalists.

It is against this background that Zambia Public Relations’ Association (ZAPRA) on one hand and Zambian Media Council (ZAMEC) and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia Chapter on the other hand, and other relevant stakeholders in professional practice in this country should monitor respective professional practice and take relevant measures to promote ethical conduct in each profession.

Therefore, PR practitioners or their respective organisations shouldn’t dance to the tune of journalists or their respective news media organisations just as the latter shouldn’t dance to the tune of the former. PR and journalism have mutual relationship and mutual benefit. A blow to one of them is a blow to both.

PR practitioners and journalists should work and relate as professionals in their respective areas to the benefit of both professions and their respective organisations.

Such an approach to professional practice is critical in any field of study because such lead to achievement of respective organisation’s objectives. It also leads to more co-operation and more unity among such organisations. Such a situation can facilitate sustainable national development processes in our country.

The author is a PR Trainer and Consultant.

Source : The Times of Zambia

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