The wave of discontent crashing through the Middle East and North Africa has dominated the public and media consciousness over recent months. And, ever introspective, the media has turned its gaze on how it receives and reports that news. Two of the BBC’s flagship current events programmes, The Today Programme and Newsnight, have recently run features on the role of public relations in, how shall we say….less salubrious (read autocratic) regimes.
The findings suggest the UK has become a global hub for PR efforts serving Arab leaders desperate to stem the tide of negative headlines. In this instance, public relations can essentially be distilled into a couplet we all know: “Accentuate the positive/eliminate the negative.”
Geopolitics is a nuanced and inexact science. It does not work in primary colours; that’s only the preserve of a revolution. Instead it operates in muted hues and is rarely a case of pure good versus pure evil. History is littered with freedom fighters that turned into despots given the corruptive effect of absolute power. Are PR firms expected to predict the intentions of each regime? No.
Nonetheless, the PR industry can take action to avoid allegations of impropriety. The formation of UKPAC to promote and uphold effective self regulation is a good start. PR consultancies also need to know precisely who they are getting into bed with. Otherwise, when the lights come on, they might face a nasty shock.
Cross-posted from the Engine blog.