Public relations agency Mercer PR has been criticised for a press release it issued on behalf of the Nauruan Government, which apparently revealed the name of a an alleged rape victim from the detention centre island.
The release was described as an “extraordinary” breach of privacy by various academics in The Guardian.
According to The Guardian, the release was issued on Monday outlining the police investigation into the complainant who had been previously detained in the detention centre on Nauru. The report apparently also included the name of the victim and “graphic details of the assault allegations”.
The Guardian quoted former police officer Peter Fox as saying the information released showed a real lack of care.
“I had 37 years in the police force predominantly as an investigator,” he was reported as saying in The Guardian. “Never are the names of victims in those situations ever released. That was a policy of the judiciary, and also of the police force throughout this nation.
“To have done that is extraordinary. I think it just again shows the real lack of care and protection of some of these poor people that are being abused in detention.”
Lyall Mercer, managing director at Mercer PR, reportedly told The Guardian it was passing along the unmodified information on behalf of the Nauruan government.
Earlier today independent publication Crikey [paywall] reported the PR firm had gone silent and upped the security of its online presence.
When checking ourselves this afternoon at 3pm, the Twitter feed of @Mercer_PR was private. Lyall Mercer’s personal Twitter account was also set to private, as was the company’s Instagram page.
In response this afternoon, Mercer responded via email to B&T. He said: “These reports are sensationalised and highly inaccurate, as is the suggestion we have gone to ground.
“Our focus is simply on servicing our clients and not responding to these ridiculous claims which are void of the facts. Mercer PR has an excellent reputation across the corporate field and we act ethically and professionally at all times.”
After receiving a number of queries about the case, the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) has issued a statement on the issue, condemning the release of private information and saying that while it is an international matter, the ethical implications deserve a response.
Mercer PR is currently not a registered consultancy group with the PRIA, nor are any of its employees members.
The statement, from honorary secretary for PRIA, Arthur E Delbridge, is in full below.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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.”