Lobby in Portugal: When the PR industry doesn’t succeed in producing social change

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Portugal has a 33 years old democracy achieved after a peaceful military revolution that ended a dictatorship that had lasted for several decades. Propaganda was one of the major strengths of our dictatorship (as with all the other similar regimes) and people-to-people grass roots communication was the major weapon of the revolutionary. But Public Relations in Portugal is still to accomplish some important revolutions. Here’s why…

During Portugal’s democratic period, many essential conditions for the practice of public relations (like a public sphere more or less free of governmental control) started to develop and with our entrance to the European community in 1986 the economic conditions for the development of a public relations market seemed to put us on the right track.

However in some essential aspects we remained tied to the past. One of those is the fact that the official definition of the PR profession in Portugal still dates back to the seventies and the fact that several professional associations where formed and disappeared and we are still to have a representative, active, open and proactive professional association.

But probably the best example of our PR industry trying to achieve social change and being prevented from doing it is the case of lobby. Martins Lampreia, one of the three Portuguese accredited lobbyists at the European Parliament, recently explained in an interview that

“There are three main aspects as to why lobby doesn’t function in Portugal. First of all, there is a prevailing idea that lobby is an Anglo-Saxon activity that doesn’t concern us that much. Second, every time the media talk about lobby, they bring up the negative side of it, exposing this or that (negative) case. And thirdly because major companies never experienced any problems in reaching top decision makers. It’s not in their interest to give that kind of power to the small and mid-sized companies, who merely rely on their representative associations, who have some access to the decision-making power according to their resources. Let’s just say this isn’t about those major companies preventing small ones from doing it, but rather about them doing nothing to help.”

Martins Lampreia has been pursuing the cause of lobby regulation in Portugal and explains that

“Portugal is one of the few countries in which a third of the MP’s are not under exclusivity regimen at the Parliament. (…) So before the question of transparency in lobby there is the question of transparency from the politics / MP’s because they are often acting as lobbyists for the companies they represent.”

Having said this, perhaps the following facts extracted from this article doesn’t surprise you that much:
After recent moves from PR agencies and professionals in Portugal claiming the public relations’ professionals right to enter the parliament to speak freely to members of the parliament (a right that is only conceded to journalists), the President of the Parliament (after a putative study of similar cases) declined to concede this right saying that “there are juridical questions that prevent that the right of parliament journalists to have permanent access to the parliament is enlarged to employees of those companies”.

This moves us back to a situation which most European countries have already undergone several years ago. That situation of having to argue the legitimacy of lobby, something that (as Jordi Xifra explains in an article on PoRtraits magazine – begins

“in the duty of the public decision-makers to be informed about all those interests implied when it is necessary to take a decision, whichever the ambit. The legislator or someone having a management position, like the judge, have the duty to listen all involved parties. And the civil society, as an involved part, should defend its interests, based on information and argumentation. These are their only weapons.”

What’s your opinion? Do you know similar cases around the world?

6 COMMENTS

  1. It is wonderful to know that finally Lobbying is beginning to be discussed as one of the relevant areas of PR in Portugal. The efforts made by Martins Lampreia have finally reverberated in the sector and I can only hope that this discussion will not come to a halt until we agreed on the definitions and rules for the PR Professionals.

    I would just like to introduce the term Advocacy and as a close related concept. The main difference between Lobby and Advocacy is the fact that Lobby has a focus on legislation. Advocacy is considered to be the act of pleading or arguing for something or in support of a cause. Lobbying is specifically related to legislative procedures. There can be better definitions than this one but I believe it states the essential.

    Therefore, when referring to Lobby or Advocacy, as areas of Public Affairs, we should be able to identify the specific meaning of them within precise definitions.

    In my mind, one of the reasons for not having these definitions already set up and running, is because its absence allows a breech on how legal and judicial forces regulate and identify other known concepts such as ‘Corruption’ or ‘Traffic of Influences’. They become, in most cases, confused with Lobby/Advocacy. Not being able to set a clear legal and normative division between concepts, the perpetrators of illegal activities can state their cases, arguing differently from the legal perception and hiding their operations.

    This absence of definitions is also the reason for why public opinion and media still tag Lobby as a pejorative and pernicious activity .

    As regards the presence of PR professionals in Parliament, I see it as a clear case of misunderstanding of Politics, that identify the presence of these professionals as something negative while defending companies’ interests. Having this perception, Politics don’t want to be seen working hand to hand with PR professionals as well as they feel it is an invasion of their space of debate and decision. While Journalists are mainly considered as an unilateral “tool” for visibility and political strategy, PR professionals are seen instead as “potential threats” to political information and reputation management.

    On the other hand, we have to bear in mind that not all of the PR professionals act in transparent ways or follow the code of ethics and deontology. Therefore, and in parallel with the definition of concepts and the allowance to be in Parliament, I would also suggest that the PR Industry in Portugal solve their differences (if any) once and for all, being able to create a single class representative and invest in a stronger, better articulated and stricter way of regulating the activity.

    I also agree that the matter should be introduced to high schools and university courses in order to produce graduate professionals from the areas of Law, Business Management and Communications.

    I look forward for further developments on this issue!!!
    Kind Regards

  2. Regarding legislation, I believe the main problem resides in the dormant PR organizations. Like Apecom and ARPP. I agree that some people use that legislation gap to act as lobbyists. But would that be enough to hold back legislation? Is that such a wide phenomenon ?

    Portugal has one advantage though. Being one step behind takes away our excuse to make mistakes in this field. We’ve seen Brazil build it’s national Association of PR. To circumvent it’s restrictions to the practice of PR, several others emerged. Practising public relations but calling it something completely different.

    Any organisation fighting to consolidate PR practices in Portugal can simply look around, follow the best path it sees while trying to avoid this kind of small traps.

    But of course, first, Portuguese PR associations need to wake up, agree on a common goal and support that agreement with actions.

  3. In Italy, way back in 1976 a coalition of mp’s (catholic, today’s minister of justice; socialist; republican and communist) proposed a bill which, while recognizing officially the national association of public relations, also required the regulation of lobbying activities along the lines of the then american registration and reporting requirements. I remember this well because it is no secret in our community that I had drafted the text as vice president of Ferpi and put together the coalition of mp’s at the time.
    The bill, following the usual ups and downs of my country’s very complicated parliamentary procedure was approved unanimously by the labour committee of the House, but then defeated in the full House conversion process following a blatant attack on the lobby regulation requirements by the then general director of Confindustria (employers) which appeared on the first page of the Corriere della Sera (our most influential daily).
    He was against because this provision would have amounted, he claimed, to one more constraint on the quote freedom of enterprise unquote.
    The project was subsequently revised and reproposed many times but never succeeded in going anywhere. Also today there are a few proposals deposited in Parliament but stranded, although there are many more members of the elite which are in favour than there used to be.
    In the meantime (and this is only meant as a lateral thought) I have convinced myself that it would be sufficient for the House or the Senate to agree a change in its internal regulation concerning access and privileges and reporting requirements in exchange for these privileges, rather then going through the actual motions of a formal bill to obtain the same effects….and the other institutional organisms would follow. In fact the Region of Tuscany has approved some time ago a bill recognizing of representation interest groups, and other regions are working in that direction.
    Many lobbysts belong to Ferpi but others prefer to distance themselves from public relators because, they claim, quote we are not involved in spin but in advocacy and we stick to facts…..unquote
    There is an increasing number of lobbying consultancies and some of them are becoming household names.
    To name but two: Running which was formed some five six years ago by Claudio Velardi (who used to be chief of staff of Massimo D’Alema, today foreign minister, when he was premier in the late nineties) and which today is at the center of a group of companies involving research, education, television and daily newspapers; FB Comunicazione, headed by Fabio Bistoncini who until recently was vice president of Ferpi (the Italian Federation of public relations)and long before had learned his trade as manager of institutional relations for SCR, the then largest public relations consultancy. Another well known lobbyist is Samaritana Rattazzi (a prominent member of the Agnelli family)who today works also in partnership with Edelman.
    Most large organizations (corporations, associations) have professional lobbysts inside their organization and, in any case, tend to use consultants.
    Most large pr agencies have at least one lobbyist, some are specialized in european affairs, others in regional affairs, but most are involved in every level of the public policy process.
    One curiosity, which I believe does not apply to many countries, has to do with the issue raised in this dicussion of active members of parliament being lobbyists directly.
    We have always known that major interest groups like trade unions, activist groups, shopkeepers, employers etc.. all contribute substantially to the election of representatives of their interests. But in Italy the Constitution indicates that a member of parliament, contrary to the United States tradition, represents the whole of the electorate and not her/his constituency (either voters nor geographic origin). Therefore, although it is no secret, single elected representatives of interest groups (sometimes, when they remember or somebody reminds the…) make an effort not to exagerate…..
    I have also often thought that Italy being behind, we could learn from the mistakes of others…helas!! not true unfortunately.
    We arrive late and usually in much worse conditions.
    Our african colleagues like to enhance the concept of post modernity in the sense that they do not necessarily have to go through the same evolution.
    Hopefully this could be true for the adoption of technology but I am afraid, judging at least for an italian perspective, that this doesn’t hold true for human behaviour and certainly not for the public policy process, whose compexities and complications are significantly contributing (although this is not the only cause..) to the progressive exit of my country from the area of advanced industrial democracies.

  4. Filipe and Bruno,

    Welcome, my friends, to the blog and to this conversation on a reality that both of you are very aware of. I know that you had been monitoring the blog for a while and I’m very happy that you decided to take part in it.

    Regarding the overall situation of Lobbying in Portugal I just heard that Martins Lampreia is organizing a conference in Lisbon with Siim Kallas, European Commissioner who is leading the European Transparency Initiative and who will talk about “Shapping the Lobbying Rules”. In a time when Portugal is responsible for the Presidency of the European Union this conference will gather other important speakers such as Catherine Stewart from the Society of European Affairs Professionals or Christian de Fouloy Chief Lobbyist of the EU Lobby network. I just hope this conference can further help to put the spotlight on this problem and I will try to report back to this blog on its contents.

    Although, as Filipe mentions, the broad field is Public Affairs and Lobby is just one of its areas, when it comes to saying bad things about lobby, PR is almost always at the top of the critic’s mind. Check out this website which runs an award for the worst lobbying campaigns in Europe. So for the purpose of clarification I’d say (agreeing with many other that say the same) that ours is a profession while lobby is an activity from the specialty area of Public Affairs. Some consider it mainly an activity for lawyers, international relations or others. I rather view Public Relations as a profession which deals with “publics” and lobby as a way that “publics” have to take part in the public life and defend their interests.

    Toni’s thought-provoking comment about probably being easier to change the internal regulation of the house than going through a motion of a formal bill makes all sense. I guess that’s what the leaders of the Portuguese PR agencies who wrote to the President of the Parliament wanted to happen, but with unfortunate results.

    Regarding the issue of making developments based on the perception of the other’s mistakes, I do agree we need some more autonomous thinking (although I wouldn’t call it post modernism). But if my friend Catarina Oliveira, a bright PhD researcher who is writing on the history of Public Relations in Portugal, would care to comment on this, she would probably easily demonstrate all of us how singular and non mimetic our development in the PR field has been so far. Speaking about it, Lisbon’s Superior School of Mass Communication and Media Arts announced that it is opening the first Master’s Program in Strategic Management of Public Relations with the participation of acclaimed international lecturers. At least in some regards it seems we are keeping up the pace.

    JD

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