David Cameron has made headlines over the past few weeks after an investigation was made into his involvement in the Greensill Lobbying Scandal. Although Mr Cameron was cleared of any wrongdoing, his involvement in the scandal poses questions for the Public Relations Industry. In order to progress as an ethical profession, should the PR industry do more to combat nontransparent lobbying? Is the function of lobbying responsible for giving PR a bad rep?
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations has defined lobbying as a ‘discipline within public relations where the general intention of the activity is to inform and influence public policy and law’ (CIPR, 2021). PR scholars Grunig and Hunt argued that at ‘its purest, lobbying means providing sufficient data to a legislature so that all the facts can be
known before a vote is cast’ (Grunig and Hunt, 1984, pp. 215-216). Of course, it has its good intentions, but the Cameron case represents fundamental issues with the discipline.
Transparency within government relations has often been criticized. Any lobbying that a government official participates in must be available for public scrutiny. Arguably as an ex-Primeminister and current Greensill employee, his lobbying activities did not, as he said himself break “no codes of conduct and no government rules”, still even Cameron admitted there were “lessons to be learnt” from this.
As Cameron has influence and relationship with many Westminster politicians, he can therefore use lobbying to his advantage in a way that many may consider to be a manipulation of the rules. In this way, the instrument of lobbying gets a negative reputation which feeds the stereotypical image of the dark arts of PR and manipulation.
Of course, the majority of PR practitioners will ant to move away from this stereotype and build upon the profession as a more ethical and transparent industry. Lobbying certainly can give PR a bad rep if, as in the Greensill Case, there are major issues with conflict of interests.
“Too much lobbying activity is currently out of scope of lobbying legislation and that must change. The independent investigation into David Cameron’s lobbying of government provides the opportunity put in place new, wider reaching legislation that will drive greater transparency and a positive, and respected future for our profession(PR)” (CIPR 2021).
Rachael Clamp Chart.PR, MCIPR, Chair of CIPR Public Affairs
What is great is that the CIPR is now driving an investigation which will review regulations for lobbying. It is certainty in the interest of PR industry to strive to improve the current standards and move away from any negative perceptions. Hopefully, PR will be recognised for its commitment to seeking transparency for the interest of the public.
After all, that is what public relations should be all about.