When today’s news overflows with accounts of a Washington Post journalist who “disappeared” in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul (and was ultimately found to have been murdered), or political messaging that includes threats against journalists, it is a day when communications professionals of all disciplines, nationalities and ideologies should ask: “Is the free press in danger?”

These are polarizing, uncivil times when almost any statement can be painted as “political,” but these violent incidents are more than high-stakes political battles. They are crimes, and speaking out against them is to support human decency, fidelity to the truth and the fundamental capability of governments and other institutions to function for the common good. Those values are at risk whenever journalists and ethical journalism are under attack. 

As public relations professionals, we must stand with communicators around the world to advocate for the essential role of a free press. Consequently, the Public Relations Society of America has co-signed a statement from the Society of Professional Journalists urging a full investigation into the disappearance and death of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. 

Furthermore, we support the duty of journalists everywhere to ask tough questions in pursuit of transparency and the truth. Those journalists should and do expect debate and criticism about their reporting — that’s fair and can benefit us all — but violent retribution cannot be tolerated. And we pledge to always advise the organizations, companies and clients we serve that the only course when they are being asked tough questions is truth. Always truth. Only truth. 

Today’s public discourse is often caustic and disheartening, but that’s not sufficient reason for public relations professionals to withdraw from that discourse. Rather, it is the best reason to stand up and speak out for the essential freedom of speech and of the press as outlined in the First Amendment. In fact, it is our duty today and every day.

Sincerely,

Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA
2018 National Chair