The board chairman for the Public Relations Society America met this week with public relations professionals in Columbia and Greenville. She brought a message that high ethical standards in the profession can be a weapon to fight the onslaught of “fake news” and “alternative facts” dominating the airwaves and online sites today.
Jane Dvorak, president of JDK & Company in Denver, CO, is a long-time leader in the Colorado Chapter of PRSA and has served in many national PRSA leadership roles. She has received the highest recognitions for excellence in the public relations profession with the Accreditation in Public Relations designation and is a member of the PRSA College of Fellows. Dvorak has worked with clients ranging from health care and the environment to publishing and the arts.
She spent time talking with public relations professionals and students about the importance of ethics and authenticity in the workplace and in personal interactions. Dvorak described public relations professionals as “the connectors, the bridge builders between stakeholders, employees, management and partners. We are on the front line of commutating messages – making sure we can do that over a long period of time – that’s when ethics becomes what we live and breathe.”
Dvorak’s time as chair of the 22,000-member PRSA has put her on the front lines of the “fake news” debate around the country.
“Facts are facts. Period,” she said. “We do have alternative opinions and perspectives. We just need to make sure we don’t confuse fact and opinion.”
Dvorak said that authenticity is more than a buzzword noting public relations professionals and the interests they represent must live their values. “Is your company professing to do something but really doing something else?” she asked. “Is it professing to go green but throwing everything in the trash?”
Dvorak pointed out there’s a difference between entertainment and news. “People often think if it’s on ‘the news’ it must be true. In our work, we have an obligation to point things out – cite sources. We can stop that process [of fake news] by not propagating it further. It becomes accepted behavior.“
In January, Dvorak, in her role as chair of the PRSA board, weighed in with the national media on the issue of “fake news”:
“Truth is the foundation of all effective communications. By being truthful, we build and maintain trust with the media and our customers, clients and employees. As professional communicators, we take very seriously our responsibility to communicate with honesty and accuracy.
The Public Relations Society of America, the nation’s largest communications association, sets the standard of ethical behavior for our 22,000 members through our Code of Ethics. Encouraging and perpetuating the use of alternative facts by a high-profile spokesperson reflects poorly on all communications professionals.
PRSA strongly objects to any effort to deliberately misrepresent information. Honest, ethical professionals never spin, mislead or alter facts. We applaud our colleagues and professional journalists who work hard to find and report the truth.”
During her visit to South Carolina, Dvorak also visited with students from USC and Columbia College. She told them, “We have become a society to hear only what we like. We don’t like to hear other perspectives or points of view. But what we really need to do is hear both sides of a story. Good journalism will give you that. But it doesn’t mean you can’t agree to disagree.”