Monday, December 6, 2010

Public Relations Goes Legal!

Many people have an abstract view of the law and its legal consequences. For the average person, the law deals with topics which include criminal negligence, murder, homicide, trafficking of illicit drugs, divorce, child custody, contracts and so on. As a result, it is hard to imagine how the public relations industry and those who retrieve and disseminate messages can find themselves in the courtroom. How do public relations practitioners find themselves in the hands of the law by simply communicating information?

I found our lecture on Ethics: Communication Law to be very interesting in that it gave us the important facts and elements regarding public relations and their liability when they engage in serious illegal acts.

As we enter into the field of public relations, the single most important component to understand and become familiar with is the guideline that is established by the industry. Failing to do so will lead to serious legal ramifications, ones that may lead to damage both you and the organization that you work for.

James Haggerty, author of Winning Your Case with Public Relations, says: “Communication is now central to the management of modern litigation. It can mean communicating to external audiences, such as the media, or to internal audiences, like employers, investors, shareholders, and others with a vested interest in the organization…while you can have a victory in the courtroom of public opinion without a victory in the courtroom, your legal victory doesn’t amount to much if, in the process, you sacrifice reputation corporate character, and all of the other elements that make up an organization’s goodwill in the marketplace.”

A few examples of lawsuits that involved public relation practitioners and their material are as follows:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed charges against three national diet firms when they failed to provide its clients with accurate information in their advertising and publicity regarding actual weight-loss success and safety risks.

Los Angeles city attorney filed a civil law suit against Fleischman-Hillard accusing the LA office of inflating invoices, claiming uncompleted work and overcharging for other activities.

On the positive side of things, it is also important for public practitioners to understand the policies and standards that affect their activities for their own protection against unlawful acts committed on the part of the organization.  For example, a case that involved a San Francisco public relations practitioner who was fired by his employer for refusing to write misleading news releases. The PR practitioner filed a civil law suit against his employer for “unlawful dismissal." The practitioner won the case! Knowing the law and your rights, freedoms and responsibilities are crucial when entering into the business world because we as professionals should not be taken advantage of.

As a last note, I will leave you with this…Know the law. Understand your rights. Communicate to success!

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