Some 77% of american public opinion (if such an animal ever existed) is reported to consider media reports largely responsible for the worsening of the global economic crisis.
What is however even more relevant and scary, is that many governmental and corporate leaders vociferously adopt the same argument, to the point were repetition inevitably ends up digging into collective opinions.
For example in my country (Italy) Prime Minister Berlusconi has repeatedly abused the media (his media, of course, but there ain’t much left..) in these recent weeks to denounce national media for aggravating the situation by reporting news on the crisis, and has repeatedly encouraged consumers to spend and advertisers to invest (if he was listened to, and early reports.. however biased.. indicate that he was, this is good news for his personal media interests whose profits largely rely on consumer related advertising).
This argument, of course, is utter nonsense and greatly exaggerated, at least to the extent it has reached.
For those of us who are accustomed to habitually read newspapers, visit the Internet, watch TV or listen to the radio, we have been frequently and sometime even dramatically forewarned of what was coming…. in some cases years, and in many cases months before.
Simply, we didn’t want to believe it and did not stop to think of what we might do to avoid it, and this because we wanted to push the bonanza indefinitely.
Historians will likely argue that this is one of the real universal reasons why the situation eventually worsened when it was clear it was coming.
Of course, there have been different patterns in different parts of the world, but overall I believe this to be a fact.
One of the many (and amongst themselves often contradictory) reasons why our collective opinion of the media has so dramatically dropped in this last period, is also because we have been consistently irritated by, and refused to listen to, the repeated alarms voiced by the more serious media on the global financial situation and its inevitable impact on the overall economy.
This argument clearly does not apply to all the media nor to all the journalists, but it would be foolish not to admit that the leaderships of many governments, institutions, corporations, associations and other organizations in the West and in the East, in the North and in the South, inadvertently (some) and voluntarily (others) conspired to a ‘business as usual’ approach, crossing fingers and confiding in a lucky star and hoping that when the house tumbled it would the one down the block and not ours (..that ‘America cannot and will not do this to us’ syndrome, so common in Europe at least, which of course leads us today to put the blame simultaneously on the messenger and the massager..).
So where does this leaves us, public relators?
Well, let us look at media relations (some 50% of our activity across the world) and begin our argument with the early 2008 Cardiff University research of the learned (not trash) British media which informs us that 82% of the printed information relies on sources which directly or indirectly have to with public relations. You may access the report cardiff report.
So, we are known to be the principal source for journalists.
In turn, journalists are known to be the principal source for the formation of public opinion (whatever that may amount to today..).
And public opinion comes back and, by a 70% margin, tells us that the media has worsened the crisis?
An uncomfortable thought for those professionals who represent that 82% of source, to say the very least!
Do I need to articulate further and explain the infinite and opaque tricks we constantly use to mislead journalists (admittedly often with their support, but this does not diminish our responsibilities..)?
To badmouth our competitors or adversaries?
To protect the interests we represent disregarding or not even making the effort to listen to evidence, facts and numbers?
To overtly exaggerate performances and underestimate failures?
To undermine obstacles and hype opportunities?
And, most importantly, to disrepute those (admittedly not many) journalists who still seem to believe that they have the duty to report the world as they interpret it relying on multiple sources without necessarily being obliged to abide only to the diktats of the stronger interests?
Of course, many of you will want to take issue on my use of the term we.
Of course not all public relators indulge in these practices, but we must face the fact that barely a meagre 10% of our professional community are sufficiently aware of their societal impact to belong to a professional association and, even so, it would be a long shot to state that these organizations are up to anything significant to ensure its members are coherent with the much touted ethics codes they sign up to.
Other views and comments?