Category Archives: Media Ethics

My thoughts on the KPMG reputational crisis

KPMG’s name and reputation remains in crisis and in the headlines. We just can’t stop talking about it. So let’s start learning from it. Having been involved in practising, lecturing and consulting in Corporate Communication, I can’t resist throwing out some of my own thoughts on the matter.

Loss of ethics loss of Reputation

In terms of corporate citizenship, ethical branding, responsible leadership, accountability and reputation, here are my offerings:

  1. For many years now, the King Report has been the go-to document for guidelines on corporate governance, corporate citizenship and responsibility to one’s stakeholders, community, politico-economic and natural environment. Large corporate are obliged to take note and commit to upholding the principles and values contained in the King Report which is constantly being revised  to ensure it remains valid, relevant and current.
  2. Transformational leadership. It’s simple: know what it means. Know the code of conduct. Know how to motivate and inspire. Know the law but act ethically. Know your people and their feelings. Know the truth. Spread the truth.
  3. Reputation management: Every company –small and large – must plan and manage its identity, its values and its behavior in order to manage outcomes and others’ perceptions of it. Only through critical strategic discussions with all stakeholders, including the media, can a company develop a strong positive reputation.
  4. Crisis management – Plan, prepare, strategise for negative disruptive events that impact your operations and your reputation. Without a crisis plan you’re doomed. Public sharing is vital for a reputable organization to gain support. Don’t apologise unless you mean it and are prepared to pay the price.
  5. Corporate culture: Vision, Ethos, Values, Beliefs and Behaviour. Accountability means to take responsibility for one’s decisions and actions and be adaptable to changes in the environment and courageous to stand one’s ground in the midst of potential threats, temptations and challenges. Be purpose- not greed-driven.

Finally, companies should strategise for sustainability. Their strategies must translate into best practice – setting standards and acting as examples for conducting ethical business, based on principles and values of trust, integrity, professionalism, not greed, status and power.

Corporate governance and CSR – is it for REAL?

What is ‘fake news’?


What is ‘fake news’? And how does it affect us?                                    Fake news 1

Have you noticed how this ‘catch-all’ confusing media term is being used every day? Donald Trump uses it to describe any news he doesn’t like, doesn’t agree with, or that doesn’t come from his own tweets. And although we associate the term with Trump, stories involving ‘fake news’ have been around for a while. But what does it mean in our hi-tech social media world and how does it affect our own interpretation of news and how we respond to it?

Is it propaganda, deception, misrepresentation or just plain you-know-what?

All of the above. One definition of fake news, or hoax news, is “false information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news. Fake news websites and channels push their fake news content in an attempt to mislead consumers of the content and spread misinformation via social networks and word-of-mouth” (www.webopedia.com/TERM/F/fakenews.html).

Wikipedia defines it as news which is “completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximize traffic and profit. News satire uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, but is intended to amuse or make a point, not deceive. Propaganda can also be fake news”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news .

In The Guardian, Elle Hunt explores ‘fake news’:  “Until recently, there was news and “not news” (referring to human interest stories or features). Now there is ‘fake news’, said to be behind the election of Donald Trump as US president. The US election result was influenced by a widespread belief in fake news among Trump supporters. 73% of Trump voters thought the billionaire financier George Soros paid protesters to disrupt the Republican candidate’s rallies – a fake news report later repeated by the president-elect himself.”

Other fake news includes a report that Democratic senators wanted to impose sharia law in Florida, and a false report that Trump supporters chanting “we hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back” at a rally was reported as true on election night.

Fake news in SA                         

Fake news 4According to Verlie Oosthuizen, a partner at Shepstone and Wylie’s social media law department, “Fake news – which previously targeted celebrities – has shifted to politics; Donald Trump’s election shows the impact of this growing trend on politics”.

Xolani Dube, from the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, believes what is now termed fake news has been around since the inception of power. “Pre-information age, fake news was called propaganda and preserved in print media and radio. It existed by other names before that. For anything to sustain itself it needs to rebrand, so it is appearing now as fake news, electioneering sabotage.”

Sabotage had allegedly been the aim of the work of an ANC team called the “War Room” in the run up to the local government elections. Allegations that its goal was to create posters depicting opposition political parties negatively, were contained in a court application by Sihle Bolani. The public relations strategist fingered Shaka Sisulu, Walter Sisulu’s grandson, as her recruiter, as did Thami Mthimkhulu, a Durban man who claimed – on Twitter – that he had been sent slanderous posters of EFF and DA leaders to share and “push” on social media.

The proliferation of fake news targeting political parties and politicians is “new-age propaganda” that is not likely to stop and political leaders have to brace themselves for the online onslaught. This is according to a social media lawyer and a researcher, who were responding to allegations that the ANC spent R50 million to spread fake news and pay social media “influencers” to discredit the political opposition. Many commentators agree that as the ANC succession debate heats up, South Africa could expect even more fake news. So be aware….

Should we be worried about fake news?

Social media expert, Arthur Goldstuck, believes fake news completely destroys public discourse and undermines democratic values: “Anyone who participates in this in order to advance their objectives should realise the long-term damage. It ultimately renders everything they put out untrustworthy.” He believes there should be consequences but “until someone is caught and prosecuted, it will go on”.

Hunt says, “These stories – compelling to click on, and with a “truthiness” quality to them – soar on the social web, where links are given the same weighting regardless of source, and particularly on Facebook where there is a potential audience of 1.8bn.”

Analysis by BuzzFeed found that fake news stories drew more shares and engagement during the final three months of the US election campaign than reports from, for example, the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN.    The power of this ‘fake news’ is clear.

So, how do you tell what is fake news?

Surely it’s easy to tell fake news from real news   Actually, no.   A recent study carried out by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education assessed more than 7,800 student responses on their ability to assess information sources. Researchers were “shocked” by students’ “stunning and dismaying consistency” to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles (from The Guardian article by Elle Hunt).

Soon, Facebook will flag stories of questionable legitimacy with an alert that says “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers”. Melissa Zimdars, a professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, compiled this list of websites that either purposely publish false information or are otherwise entirely unreliable, broken down by category.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel, pressured Facebook to introduce a fact check button to try to deal with fake news. This is already effective in the US as well and whether Facebook is going to mobilise this across the globe remains to be seen.

“I don’t believe there is a political will in South Africa to put up the same kind of pressure,” said Oosthuizen.  “Trying to prosecute the creators of fake news sites would be extremely difficult. You’d end up chasing leads in different jurisdictions.”

And what can we do to stop its spread?

So we’ve deduced that fake news is intentionally created and can discredit stories and the people in them and lead us to believe that something is true when it’s not. So we need to be smarter at recognising and combating news that is fabricated.

“Share responsibly”, says Hunt, “you are an influencer within your own social network: put in the legwork, and only post or share stories you know to be true, from sources you know to be responsible. You can help shape the media you want, too. Withhold “hate-clicking” on stories you know are designed to make you angry”.

Pay for journalism and news that have real value.

Exploring trends in Branding and PR without men

We ran another very successful PR Boot Camp on Thursday, 20 March. The theme was “Exploring current thinking and trends in Branding and PR.” We covered a wide range of branding and PR information and each participant shared their experience and knowledge on the topic and then got down to actually reworking their own strategies based on their new insights.

Marcel, Lindy and Des hard at workParticipants hard at work

Some of the key questions and issues raised included the ones I’ve listed below and, over the next month or two, I’ll be dealing with each one in a separate blog. However, here I want to focus on the last one: Why is it so difficult to draw local men to PR and Branding workshops?

The PR Boot Camp attracted a group of highly professional participants, including an attorney, two marketing managers – one from a large private hospital, the other from a firm of lawyers – a graphic designer and website builder, a business coach, an owner of companies, a human resource manager, and an online networking business operator. They proved to be a facilitator’s dream because they contributed constantly with insight, expertise and questions. The only thing was – they were all female! We had to ask ourselves, where are the men of Maritzburg?

No rest for the Marketing Manager Boot Camps are hard work

This opened the way for a deviation to an interesting discussion on workplace gender issues. Several of the women there had experienced a sense that some – NOT ALL (no need to get your jockstraps in a knot now!) – men in business still showed ‘traditional’ attitudes towards women. Examples included not taking seriously suggestions on business management that came from a woman; men would pay thousands of rand to go to Johannesburg to attend a seminar when facilitated by a man, while not attending a local one run by a woman of equal calibre; corporate men are generally slow to change or implement new ideas or procedures that are initiated by women.

What IS the reason for these attitudes and behaviours in 2014?

Feel free to comment…………..  while you await the blogs on:

1. Why Brand? Is branding only for cattle?

2. Why a Mission Statement?  Read this article: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/mission-statements-are-a-joke.html

3. Why Ethics and Values in business?

4. How to outplay the Competition?

5. Why Social Network platforms?

6. Why a Communication Strategy?

7. How to brand and market a coaching business?

8. Why is it so difficult to draw local men to PR and Branding workshops?

 

The Media, Marketers, politicians and the facts

Tampa PolitifactsMy monthly copy of The Media magazine arrived this week and, as always, I read it from cover to cover with great interest and curiosity. I love keeping up with trends, ideas and debates in this exciting field.
There are two articles in particular that got me moving – one by Jos Kuper (whom I regard as one of my mentors), the other by Julian Rademeyer. And the one common issue or concern was this: journalists don’t check their facts properly before publishing.

Kuper, who has been a highly respected media researcher for many years, wrote Who do we trust: media or politicians? She was reporting on her latest research findings in a South African study. Examples include: “87% believe that ‘whistleblowing’ is a good idea, and 83% of South Africans believe it is the duty of the media to expose corruption among politicians and business people.” But the negative that emerged is that about 80% of people said “that journalists often harm people’s reputations because they don’t check their information sufficiently.” (www.futurefact.co.za)

According the journalist’s code of ethics, verifying facts is core to the job. However, with news media cutting back on staff, together with the increased demands of producing non-stop content, journalists may be getting slack in the rush to produce. But that is no excuse. The implications and consequences of publishing inaccurate information can be permanently damaging to both individual and organisation.

Just a couple of weeks ago one of the cell phone companies was ordered to change the wording of an advert in which it claimed to the best at something, when in fact it wasn’t. That was an example of how a media watchdog can keep tabs on ‘storytelling’. It could also indicate the company’s attitude of ‘try your luck – even bad publicity is good publicity’.

Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address was filled with facts that were delivered out of context and somewhat misleading. Who checked that speech?

In his article, Getting it right, Rademeyer, the editor of Africa Check, maintains that fact checking is a necessary and growing industry worldwide. Companies like his aim to investigate claims made in the media to check if the facts are accurate. By doing so they hold politicians and business people accountable. For example, when a politician claims that “90% of South Africans have access to ‘clean and safe’ drinking water, does the average reader, listener or viewer believe him? If not, they now can access www.AfricaCheck.Org for the facts.

With an election coming up, I suggest we keep our eyes and ears open for promises made by politicians and check out claims to separate fact from fiction. We must demand accuracy and accountability from our politicians. And, on a daily basis, we should become more critical of seemingly unreasonable product promises too and more proactive in seeking and exposing the truth.
That’s what the media is supposed to do and if they don’t we can do it ourselves.