Ethics

News…Of The People, For The People…And By The Government

News Board

The meteoric rise and demise of the Indiana state government’s planned news service, “Just IN,” has sparked a bit of interest…and controversy…among public relations professionals as well as the media.

As a veteran PR pro myself now teaching the next generation(s) of PR professionals, this is an excellent case for discussion…should the government be in the “news business” in the first place, and, second, should Governor Mike Pence have shut down this proposed initiative in response to negative comments?

As with any ethical challenge, there are two sides to this issue.

Some of my colleagues feel that the government should keep its fingers out of the news dissemination business, opining that such an undertaking would undermine the concept of frank and open communication as defined by Ivy Ledbetter Lee more than a century ago. Another concern is the possibility of the government bypassing the media altogether and going straight to its intended audiences without journalists having the chance to ask legitimate and, perhaps, informative questions.

Others, myself included, offer that the government has always been a source of news and information for public consumption, and this proposed service is just a continuation of that tradition.

First things first…what was the intent with the launch of “Just IN”? And one concern that immediately raises its head is that of “transparency.”

The PRSA Code of Ethics contains two provisions in particular that pertain directly to this… “Free Flow of Information” and “Disclosure of Information.” One might also suggest that “Conflicts of Interest” plays a role in this discussion as well.

Having reviewed some of the reports on this situation, I would offer that there has been no indication of an attempt to mask the source of the information provided by “Just IN” staffers. It was intended to be a source of information “of the government, by the government, and for the people.”

And, as pointed out by Tom LoBianco in the Indianapolis Star, this is not the first such service. LoBianco cites two examples…the next-door-neighbor “Illinois Government News Network” and the federal government-run “Voice of America.” There seems to be no confusion in either case as to the source of the information disseminated by either outlet.

Others might argue, however, that the possibility exists that some who see/read/hear the information will be unaware of its source and will accept it as the unvarnished and unbiased truth.

As a former government public affairs professional, I was constantly firing out news and information about the organizations for which I worked. I did my best to insure that what I did send was, indeed, “news,” and I had no misconceptions about the attitude of the journalists who received my releases…they knew where the information was coming from…just as would have the news outlets that were the intended audience for “Just IN.”

To the question of Gov. Spence’s shutdown of the planned state news service, those who found fault with the concept in the first place will say, “Good idea. It was just the state trying to manipulate the media anyway.” And those who thought the service a simple attempt by the government to facilitate communication of its activities will say, “Too bad. Another effort to honor Ivy Lee’s commitment to “frank and open communication thwarted by narrow-minded naysayers.”

So be it. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Or, as a wise salesman once said to my wife who was zeroing in on some microscopic flaws in a basic table lamp, “Nothing’s perfect, little girl.” Life…and communication…will go on.

About the author

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Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk was inducted into PRSA’s prestigious College of Fellows in 2009 and is one of just two actively-teaching college professors in Massachusetts to have earned this distinction. You can read more of Kirk’s musings at his blog “A Professor’s Thought” and follow him on Twitter @KirkHazlett.

1 Comment

  • I think it’s no surprise this planned state government news source never came to exist. It’s a sad reality that a government, local or national, couldn’t remain unbiased and truthful about everything. Imagine the amount of scandals that would come to light. Talk about red tape. It just isn’t realistic for a government to have an “in house” news service in place of media outlets.

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