PR’S Relationship with Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech and a free public relations business are interdependent in a democracy. In countries where freedom of speech is restricted, the pressure faced by journalists is also felt by public relations professionals. Only through a free press can PR function as an ethical business. To represent clients properly through both traditional and new media, freedom to speak the unfettered truth is a necessity. The loss of a free press and increasing state control, particularly of TV, radio, newspapers, and in some cases, of online media and communication channels, create an impossible landscape for PR agencies, particularly international ones, to operate. This is the current landscape in many European countries and around the world.

PR agencies and communications consultants often control or advise on the use of their clients’ social media accounts. These are key communication tools in every country and through them clients can reach the public with important, truthful messages. They can also be used by the public to more closely engage with clients (brands, politicians, influential individuals). Most governments wield little control over these platforms and therefore the regulations and standards are controlled by technology firms. Perhaps, there is no specific regulation (although that is changing and there is increasingly more content regulation applicable to social media, a recent example being Covid-19 laws targeting health misinformation), but there is censorship in many states across the globe. Also, platforms are often being accused of complicity with non-democratic regimes in removing politically undesirable content.

PR professionals are natural allies to trusted and independent journalists, news organisations, broadcasters, educational institutions, NGOs, and other think tanks in communicating and promoting freedom of media and freedom of speech. The logical conclusion is that PR professionals must not be silent on this issue.

This text is an excerpt from ICCO’s first White Paper: Modern Communications Challenges for Society (Click here: Global Communication Challenges 2022 to download)


This paper has been created to inform influential institutions on the important views of PR and communications experts regarding modern
challenges in communication.

It is to be used by institutions to inform their own decisions with regard to policy as well as to begin a dialogue with PR and communication experts.

Consider this paper as the start of a productive conversation in which we can openly exchange views and information relating to these critically important challenges and opportunities.

The challenges addressed may vary in extent internationally, but share overarching characteristics. The paper has been written to advise the
Council of Europe in the first instance, but with global contributions, it’s designed to be useful in any country or region in the world.

All three major challenges addressed in this paper overlap with one another and collectively form the three biggest communication challenges for society at the present time. Let’s tackle them together.