Gifts and Ethics under Scrutiny in Middle East
Gift-giving and enforcement of ethical standards were highlighted as the most pressing moral concerns for the Middle East PR community at this year's Middle East PR Conference, held at the Zayed University's Dubai Media City campus.
What is an appropriate gift? Under which circumstances can it be offered? And who should monitor and penalise offenders who are seeking to subvert the sanctity of the free press?
These and other questions were addressed by a panel of experts from Edelman, in2consulting, Zayed University and the Gulf News, moderated by Juan Carlos Molleda from the University of Florida.
The issue would appear to be more complicated in the Middle East than other parts of the world. Regionally, it may be considered part of nomadic culture to provide a gift as a part of the ceremony of hospitality. But where is the line drawn, and what do you do when, as a practitioner, you are asked to offer an expensive item by management or your client. Is a competition prize covered by these codes, as there is an element of chance involved therefore is not actually a gift?
The various guides and codes of conduct from Associations around the world provide explicit help on this matter:
"A Member shall preserve the Free Flow of information when giving or receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal and infrequent." - The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA Code of Ethics)
"Editorial providers should prepare a policy statement regarding the receipt of gifts or discounted products and services from third parties by their journalists and other staff. Journalists and other staff should be required to read and sign acceptance of the policy. The policy should be available for public inspection." - International PR Association (Charter on Media Transparency)
MEPRA also has a robust and wholly appropriate article in its Code which states its Membership will not offer nor give, nor cause a client to offer or give, any inducement to persons holding public office or members of any statutory body or organisation such as the media with intent to further the interests of the client.
In terms of enforcement of these factors, the situation is less clear-cut. Who has the legitimacy, the power and the ability to enforce these codes? What penalty should be inflicted and in what circumstances?
It is possible that in the case of inducing media to write positive articles, a global solution is close at hand.
Very soon, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) will issue its Sector Supplement for the Media. GRI is an 'optional' framework of guidelines which help companies report their ethical practices and the impact of their social responsibility activities. More than 3,500 companies worldwide have implemented GRI reporting and organisations in the UAE, including National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Dolphin Energy and the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development have signed up.
The new supplement will be launched early this year and which will 'encourage' organisations to report on a publication's transparency and editorial independence, as well as financial assistance and advertising revenues received from government and non-government sources. Once launched, the GRI's media supplement may have a significant impact on the local industry as it provides certification from an internationally recognised body.
MEPRA's Standards & Ethics Committee is communicating with the GRI and will update its Membership on the latest news on this important new Supplement.
Written by Stephen King, Chair of MEPRA's Standards & Ethics Committee
Find out more about MEPRA on their website.