Journos Should Consider Their Own Conduct, Says Mercer PR After PRIA Statement Clarification

girl with a laptop sitting on newspapers

Governmental communications company Mercer PR has welcomed the clarification from the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) on a statement it made last about the agency after it allegedly released the name of a Nauru victim to media.

Emma Mackenzie
Posted by Emma Mackenzie

The clarification from PRIA says it hadn’t been ‘condemning’ the agency as many news outlets reported.

The agency’s CEO Lyall Mercer has said journalists should look at their own actions and how it will impact others as he said much of the reporting at the time was incorrect.

Mercer PR made headlines in October 2015 after it allegedly released the name of someone from Nauru involved in a sexual assault investigation, an enormous breach of privacy, academics in The Guardian said at the time. The information Mercer PR allegedly distributed to media outlets was on behalf of the Nauruan Government.

At the time, PRIA released a statement saying a few of its members had raised concerns about a PR agency releasing a victim’s name. PRIA’s honorary secretary, Arthur E Delbrigge said he condemned the release of personal information.

However, this past Thursday PRIA published a clarification on its Facebook Page saying it was speaking generally, and not singling out or condemning Mercer PR.

The statement said: “We refer to our ‘statement of information released about alleged Nauru victim’, dated 14 October 2015.

“This statement was general in nature and made without reference to specifics. Many media outlets interpreted this statement as concerning Mercer PR and published articles to that effect. The statement was not intended as a condemnation of Mercer PR, nor to give the implication that Mercer PR acted unethically, signed, Arthur E Delbridge, Hon. Secretary, PRIA.”

Mercer PR has since released its own statement to media, saying it welcomed the clarification.

“Mercer PR welcomes these comments, given the inaccuracy of media articles last October that falsely stated we were ‘condemned’ by PRIA. We note that PRIA were speaking generally and without reference to specifics. At no time did we speak to PRIA or did they attempt to speak to us. Much information contained in media reports at the time was also incorrect.

“Our company supports and adheres to the highest ethical standards in the field of public relations. If the ethics of anyone is to be questioned about the events at this time it is those journalists who not only reported misinformation without knowledge of the facts, but crossed the ethical line by contacting clients of our company who had nothing to do with the story, with the intent of defaming us and affecting our business and reputation. Before journalists question the actions of others, it is sometimes prudent to consider their own conduct and how their actions adversely impact others.

“Mercer PR is proud to support our clients and assist them to effectively communicate their messages. The ability to have a voice in the midst of robust debate brings balance and perspective to even the most emotive of topics.”

The full statement B&T received at the time is below. We’ve contacted PRIA for further comment and clarification.

From October 14, 2015: “The Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) has received enquiries regarding the release of personal details by a PR consultancy of an alleged victim of abuse in Nauru. While this is an international matter and currently under investigation by authorities, the ethical implications deserve a direct response.

“PRIA strongly condemns the distribution and publication of any material that involves an invasion of privacy for any individual. The release of personal information that causes harm or distress to any person is strictly in breach of our Code of Ethics which binds our members to adherence of agreed standards of behaviour.  Members are required to provide a written commitment to the Code upon joining and again annually, when memberships are renewed.

“There are prescribed procedures for receiving and investigating claims of Member breaches of the code by the Ethics Committee and sanctions. Any member of the community who feels that a breach of the PRIA Code of Ethics has occurred should lodge a formal complaint to the PRIA Ethics Committee by emailing the Honorary Secretary, Arthur E Delbridge AM LFPRIA at secretary@pria.com.au.

“In this case however, the individuals and consultancy are not PRIA members and are therefore not bound by our Code of Ethics. This incident reinforces the requirement for the highest standards in communication to be applied and PRIA encourages qualified practitioners to consider the benefits of Membership and join us in upholding these standards.

“We are concerned at all times that the Australian law and codes of conduct in relation to privacy, judicial and health matters are clearly understood and respected. PRIA accredited university courses and professional development programs constantly reinforce best practice and work with all types of organisations including media, health and legal institutions.”