PRISA calls for regulation of the public relations industry and adherence to the profession’s code of ethics

The Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) says the saga involving Bell Pottinger, a United Kingdom-based public relations company, highlights the need for regulation of the public relations industry and for all professionals to adhere to the code ethics. Reflection of credibility is based on how public relations is practiced versus how it should not be practiced.

Recent media reports around the agency Bell Pottinger calls in to question a lot of issues around ethics and in particular how public relations is conducted in South Africa.

PRISA President, Kavitha Kalicharan, reiterates the Institute’s previous call for integrity on how professionals and PR consultancies serve in the best interest of their clients. We find the apology by Bell Pottinger disheartening as it lacks a demonstratable accountablity given the severe impact of its conduct in South Africa. The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) is considering an investigation in lieu of evidence to be presented to them.

It is important to note that we are operating in a complex and diverse environment that requires creative solutions. This sounds like a straight forward, relatively simple statement, however it is not that simple. Cornerstones of professional public relations practice focuses on building long term, trusting relationships and making ethical decisions based on ‘humble intelligence” which include a wide range of interactive and collaborative sources (Willis) 2016.

Partnerships with media should aim to build trust, ensure transparent news sourcing with the public relations professional having the responsibility to “at all times deal fairly and honestly with our clients, employees (past and present) with colleagues, media and the public.

PRISA members not only adhere to the local body’s code and standards but also to that set by its international partnership with Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management.

Conduct of the Institute’s individual and consultancy members is governed by a Code of Ethics and Professional Standards.  In relation to the Bell Pottinger conduct, specific attention is drawn to the following clauses in the PRISA code:

  • We have a positive duty to maintain integrity and accuracy, as well as generally accepted standards of good taste.
  • We shall not knowingly, intentionally or recklessly communicate false or misleading information.  It is our obligation to use proper care to avoid doing so inadvertently.
  • We shall not engage in any practice which tends to corrupt the integrity of channels or media of communication.
  • We respect the principles contained in the Constitution of the country in which we practice.

It is evident that self-regulation in the public relations and communication management industry is no longer sufficient.

While not all practitioners or consultancies are members of PRISA, we invite every public relations professional to subscribe to our Code of Ethics, which serve as a guide for professional conduct and will in the long run ensure that our profession remains credible and recognised as a strategic partner to both the individuals and the organisations that we serve.

PRISA’s code can be accessed on