Public relations currently regulates itself. There is a mosaic of codes and charters that form a structure of self-regulation ensuring that across the industry and profession there are means through which people and organisations can be held to account.
In 2005, this structure was supplemented as the then Institute of Public Relations received its Royal Charter.
Our Royal Charter states that the CIPR has a duty “to promote for the public benefit high levels of skill, knowledge, competence, and standards of practice and professional conduct on the part of public relations professionals”, and it might surprise many that we are required to act in the public interest, and not strictly speaking to act in the our members’ interest.
We apply a Code-of-Conduct as our charter incorporates a regulatory function, providing us with the power to hold our members to account. Our code is regularly tested through its application in hearing complaints, and each year it is adapted to meet the realities of a rapidly changing profession.
This is supported by robust procedures, including a disciplinary process, and is one of the key elements of our industries self-regulation. For the benefit of the public, we want employers, clients and others to be able to make a clear choice between regulated professionals who enjoy access to the career support offered by the CIPR and those who are not.
But where does this leave us in 2013? The world in which public relations operates is changing rapidly and practice is radically different now compared to ten years ago.
The often brutal transparency of social media creates its own form of accountability. The light of transparency has been shone upon the press under the Leveson Inquiry, yet we are part of this same landscape and I believe our Royal Charter, and our Public Relations Register (set to go live next week and providing the public with a resource to see who in Public Relations is regulated by the CIPR and who is not), stands us in good stead when facing any scrutiny that may come.
So what does the proposed Royal Charter mean for the press? It might come as a surprise to some that the press already has a Chartered body; however the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIJ) is not the model to follow, as it exists to protect journalists in the work place – acting as both a trade union and a professional body – not to protect the public from journalistic bad practice.
The Royal Charter proposed is the first mechanism in a new structure of independent press regulation to meet the requirements envisaged in the Leveson Report, and as proposed meets these requirements but with a limited remit. Unlike our Royal Charter, this does not propose a new professional body for journalists, as in various forms, these already exist.
I believe the aim of this Royal Charter is to introduce a new regime of regulation that gains public trust, sitting at the top of a structure and intended to give the balance of judgement from persons independent of the press. The press have nothing to fear from a strong, innovative and robust regime of regulation, independent of both the press, and importantly independent of government.