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.

New ICCO White Paper Challenges PR Industry to Confront Modern Communication Challenges

The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) has launched its first ‘Modern Communication Challenges for Society’ white paper, setting out the PR industry’s role in improving the global media and communications landscape.

Following consultation with members and working groups, the white paper identifies freedom of media and freedom of speech, media literacy and education, and new technology and digital media ethics, as the three issues most crucial for the PR industry to have a leading voice on.

To tackle these challenges, the paper calls for a serious alliance across industries, including journalism, advertising, tech, and policymakers. The paper outlines the issues and impact on PR practice, and PR’s role in finding solutions. As part of this work, ICCO and its members have been contributing to the relevant committees within the Council of Europe, to discuss legislative and educational solutions.

Massimo Moriconi, ICCO Europe President, ICCO said:
“PR professionals both design the modern communication landscape, and are key players within it, dictating how media impacts people’s lives. Freedom of media to enable free expression, media literacy to fight fake news, and responsible use of artificial intelligence, are all at the core of today’s agenda for ICCO. This first white paper was created as a global collaboration, taking heed from the Council of Europe’s great work. The paper will inspire and support PR businesses and communications stakeholders in our efforts to collectively design a better communications landscape and benefit society.”

Patrick Penninckx, Head of Information Society, Council of Europe said:
“We look forward to working with the public relation industry, global institutions, and other relevant stakeholders, to tackle these critical issues at a time of great change for the global media landscape”.

Nitin Mantri, President, ICCO said:
“This paper can be the start of a great dialogue between all types of stakeholders as we tackle core issues facing communications today – with PR professionals rightly at the heart of the conversation.
“It’s important to acknowledge this paper is being published amidst war in Ukraine, in which systemic, sophisticated misinformation is being communicated by the Russian government. Through collective, international high standards, we can fight bad practice in a coherent and emphatic way.”

The paper calls on PR professionals and all media stakeholders to:
– Engage with the issues directly and understand the role of PR within them.
– Engage with national PR associations and projects locally
– Open dialogues that span PR, advertising, tech, and journalism
– Bring forth ideas and solutions as we create further papers, tools, standards and agreements to confront challenges together.

The paper can be viewed and downloaded here: Global Communication Challenges 2022