Paul Holmes 16 May 2012 // 10:05AM GMT
Reasonable people can disagree, I believe, about whether they would provide public relations counsel to the new government of the Maldives. I certainly have no problem with those who are criticizing Ruder Finn for taking on the assignment to boost confidence in the nation’s tourism industry; they have a right to their opinion and to voice it forcefully. But the new government—which took power either in a coup or via the lawful impeachment of the former president, depending on your perspective—is similarly entitled to make its own case, and to seek professional assistance in doing so. And not for the first time, I would make the case that Ruder Finn’s work should be evaluated on its merits: is the content of the firm’s communication honest and truthful, and does its counsel help to make the situation on the ground in the Maldives better? Good PR counsel, it seems to me, would urge the new government to engage with its critics, to refrain from the use of violence in dealing with protestors, to put an end to any human rights abuses, and to call new elections at the earliest opportunity. All of these are legitimate—essential, in fact—suggestions for a PR firm to make if it wants to help the Maldives maintain important relationships and restore confidence in its tourist industry. Meanwhile, I find myself reading through an op-ed by 5W Public Relations founder Ronn Torossian accusing Twitter of “enabling terrorists to spread their word and succeed” and charging that PR firms “assist in selling terror and brutality.” I’d make approximately the same arguments in this case—judge the PR firms involved on the content of their communication rather than your personal view of the clients they represent—with the added observation that Twitter should not be in the business of passing judgment on the political beliefs of its account holders. If Hamas or Hezbollah use their tweets to advocate for specific acts of violence, that’s one thing—and I would say that Torossian’s claim that they are “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” is appropriate. But if they are simply advocating for a specific world-view, even one that is explicitly hostile to Israel or the US, then they are entitled to do so, via Twitter or any other medium. Far better to engage, exchange views and argue with those with whom one disagrees—especially if you believe you have right on your side—than to silence them. That is, or should be, one of the fundamental precepts of all public relations professionals.