Saturday, April 29, 2017

The law governing Public Relations and elections

On the face of it, there would seem to be few laws that have been passed to specifically govern the activities of the public relations practitioner.

The fact is that there are many affective laws and some of them are very pertinent during election times.

If someone were to approach a PR practitioner asking for help in running their election campaign, the long arm of the law wraps itself round the practitioner. There is no escape!

The Representation of the Peoples Acts, the Electoral Registration Acts and associated regulation govern what can be be done and what has to be accounted for down to the last stamp.

The law goes further than that. If a PR practitioner attempts to support a candidate or political party in an election, even without the knowledge or consent of the candidates, the law has an interest in this too.

Even working to get people on the electoral register is nailed down by the law and bucking the law can lead to some really serious consequences.

There is a significant sub-set of public relations practitioners who are political agents and they have a considerable history going as far back as 1882. Many political agents have specific qualifications to do the job (I did several decades ago).

Of course misrepresentation is another area of law that affects the PR profession. a false statement of fact or law which induces the someone to enter a contract (agree to buy or do something or agree not to buy or do something), where a statement made during the course of negotiation or conversations (yes, this does apply to social media) is classed as a representation.  Misrepresentation may be available where the statement turns out to be untrue.  There are three types of misrepresentation:
  • innocent misrepresentation 
  • negligent misrepresentation
  • fraudulent misrepresentation
On all three counts, a person purporting to be a public relations practitioner, whether or not a member of an organisation such as the CIPR, cannot claim to be innocence a a defence. There is a duty of care (as well as professionalism) - see 'tort' below.

Many practitioners may not aware of the nature of contracts and yet enter into them daily. 

In the UK a contract that is an agreement giving rise to obligations which are enforced or recognised by law.  In common law, there are 3 basic essentials to the creation of a contract: (i) agreement; (ii) contractual intention; and (iii) consideration (what is the bargain? Is it money in exchange for something or some other value exchange).

Using marketing speak is not exempt. The claim of a 'world leading product' implies there is verifiable research behind the claim. In these cases there is an element of tort. Tort is the part of law for most harms that are not either criminal or based on a contract. Tort law helps people to make claims for compensation (repayment) when someone hurts them or hurts their property.

A lot of harm perpetrated in social media falls into the realm of Tort. In many cases bots fall fowl of tort law but there does not seem to be much case law yet.The legals issues that cover copyright, passing off and trademarks are big for PR practice too. Is your app legal? 

As we have seen, there is a lot of law that affects the PR sector and although it is struggling to keep up with The Transformative Technologies, there is plenty to be going on with.

In the meantime, there are things the practitioner can do to learn about the law that affects PR practice. Being a member and using the facilities of organisations like the CIPR is helpful. Universities provide modules for students and your own lawyer will be of help too.

There is a case for research into present UK and global legal constraints on the practice of PR (this post is about UK law but there are similar constraints worldwide). In addition, there is a need for greater clarity as to the the constraints that already exist.

It is an opportunity for a post graduate student wanting to make a name (and career) for herself.

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