The critical role of communications in supporting democracy

During these fraught days of high-stakes communication, the Canadian Public Relations Society shares a timely reminder of the critical role of communications in democracy.

With recent events demonstrating the fragility of democracy, in a recent communique to members CPRS points out, “As citizens, all of us must be aware that through our personal conduct, we can either strengthen it or weaken it.”

CPRS emphasizes that PR professionals, and I would add, all professional communicators, “have a greater responsibility than the average citizen towards the health of democracy, we must not take it for granted, and we must participate in public dialogue in a manner that reinforces it.”

The guidance they share in  Public Relations in Support of Democracy is helpful for all individuals and organizations when communicating with internal and external audiences. “Modern public relations are predicated on codes of conduct based on the values of freedom of expression, human rights, dignity and worth of the human person set out in the United Nations’ Charter of Human Rights and other major international legal instruments.” And CPRS reminds us that  it’s our “professional responsibility to ensure truly open communications between the parties, based on respect, even where goals and interests might be opposites.”

The CPRS Code of Professional Standards, the International Public Relations Association Code of Conduct, and the Global Alliance for public relations and communications practitioners’ code of ethics set out guidelines, including the following, that are helpful for any organization when communicating with your audiences.

  • Practise the highest standards of honesty, accuracy, integrity and truth.
  • Observe the principles of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Accept our duties to a broader society than merely our organization/employer— the balance should tip in favour of the broader public interest.
  • Seek to establish the moral, cultural and intellectual conditions for dialogue, and recognize the right of all parties involved to state their case and express their views.
  • Take all reasonable steps to ensure the truth and accuracy of all information provided.
  • Make every effort to not intentionally disseminate false or misleading information, exercise proper care to avoid doing so unintentionally and correct any such act promptly.

Fundamentally, individuals and organizations must actively dispel misinformation and disinformation and promote accurate, honest communications focused on building trust.

Democracy isn’t invincible. It relies on us.