Even if it isn’t politically correct should we report the truth?

With all the talk of ‘fake news,’ should we not be more worried by the absence of news where information is deliberately withheld because it could be perceived as controversial or upsetting to certain demographics of society? A simple example is analysis of crime statistics – what if they show a spike in criminal behaviour by residents of a particular postcode where the population is predominantly from a single ethic minority? Should the media report this criminality as fact; should they contextualise the dataset with overall crime rates by ethnicity; not report the figures at all?

There are plenty of reasons to justify why not to print this news, including the danger (particularly in the current global political climate) of being seen to single out racial groups when this might spark reprisals and hinder integration between communities. The counter argument is that we are sterilising the news, creating an artificial picture of the world in which we live and operate. How can problems be addressed and behaviours changed if we aren’t provided with accurate information?

While people may make light of a ‘snow flake’ generation, just waiting to be offended, brands need to be sensitive to the risks of reporting data that could result in a media furore. With the media increasingly adopting a dog-eat-dog mentality, reporting online criticism of stories written up in other news outlets, brands need to be increasingly sensitive how all groups will react to the news stories they push out.  A vocal minority online can generate disproportionate mainstream negative coverage that can harm a brand.

Public relations is a profession of compromise and pragmatism, balancing clients’ desire for overt promotion with the media’s need for content that has editorial merit. When the compelling editorial value of a PR initiative yields insights that may be perceived as not politically correct (non-PC) from a brand perspective a decision needs to be made as to how to use this information. Talented PRs will not bury this insight they will contextualise it and use it sympathetically rather than just ‘leaving it out.’

PRs have long been accused of creating false narratives to tell the stories we want to in the media and in many cases this is true. However, if the industry starts to systemically create a homogenised view of the world, that doesn’t represent reality when the data presented shows otherwise, then we are simply helping to undermine the integrity of the media still further. Brands need to be increasingly sensitive to all potential audiences, not just their customers, but if they are too afraid to push the boundaries we may be left with an anodyne landscape bereft of creativity.

Written by Ewan Robertson, Executive Director

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