Do you hear that?
That’s the silent sound of eyes rolling and eyebrows raising. I suppose that’s natural given you’re reading an article from a Public Relations practitioner about the notion of ‘truth.’
So let’s get started — Truth; does it exist?
Yes, but I’d argue (or rather have Rappaport, 1981 argue) there are multiple truths that coexist, each with opposing perspectives and conflicting viewpoints. However, I’m not questioning the existence of Truth — or should I say “a” Truth — but the notion of there being an “absolute” Truth. A reality so pure that it cannot be disputed.
It’s in this instance that I — along with Hobsbawm (2006), Von Rautenfeld (2005) and Perullo (1998) — maintain that there is “no such thing as absolute truth.” Particularly in the context of the media.
This is demonstrated by the simple fact that we hold unbiased and balanced reporting as basic principles of credible journalism. For if there was an absolute truth, there wouldn’t be a need to seek multiple sides of a story or perspectives on an issue.
I can tell you want to step in and have your say; what about death? We all die, so surely that qualifies as an absolute truth?
It is true that we all die, but linguist such as Friederike Moltmann (1997) argue that such statements are actually “facts,” not absolute truths.
Semantics? Absolutely, but an interesting train of thought nonetheless. Especially, when you consider the endless debate between Atheists and Theologists concerning when life stops and starts (zombie apocalypse, anyone?). Many groups are armed with facts, but very rarely do they agree on what is true.
Taking some spiritual inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, even our own personal experiences cannot be deemed as absolute truths — for the struggle of differentiating truth and fact is also an internal one.
As Farrah Dally (2014) says, we have to challenge the truths we create for ourselves through the experience of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, and accept that we have blind spots preventing us from seeing the full picture.
Returning to the scope of media, we as Public Relations professionals find ourselves in a bit of a paradox.
Assume we were all powerful beings with huge brains in even bigger craniums, who have access to all the facts, figures and versions of the truth to complete the picture (I’ll choose not to argue truth equality in this instance). Given the current media model, how could such information be condensed to a thirty second phone conversation or two paragraph written pitch? What’s more, how can we hope to see this in an eight hundred word article, or a sixty second TV segment or even an hour long documentary?
These mediums by very nature have boundaries and limitations, which as a result changes this picture to become a collection of stories instead. As Marshall McLuhan said more than forty years ago; “the medium is the message.”
So let’s not beat around the bush; we are paid to tell the stories of our clients. But I am proud to say that these are stories worth telling — and are done so accurately, truthfully and responsibly.
Ethical storytelling lies at the heart of our profession, much like ethical practices in any other profession. It helps us establish solid relationships with colleagues, clients, media contacts, and everyone else in-between.
I’m conscious that working in a commercial industry that propagates a point of view, in the eyes of the reader, doesn’t make me an authority on this subject. Nor should it. Those who I have referenced above have spent years researching and publishing their theories on the matter — I have a word limit.
Those of us that work in PR know too well the stereotypes that are associated with our profession. Like any occupation, there are inevitably going to be those that give us a poor reputation.
But before you label us as manufacturers of news, hidden persuaders or the all famous spin doctor, ask yourself the question; is that true?
- Community Psychology: Linking Individuals and Communities, Kloos et. al, Third Edition, 2011, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, pg. 58
- Where the Truth Lies, Julia Hobsbawm, Second Edition, 2006, Atlantic Books, pg. 4
- Comparing Mass Media in Established Democracies: Patterns of Media Performance, Lisa Müller, 2011, Palgrave McMillan, pg. 39
- Malagasy and the Media: Representations and Stereotypes in Images and Texts of Malagasy Phonograms, Alexander Perullo, 1998, Indiana University Press, pg. 20
- Unifying the Philosophy of Truth, Achourio et. al, 2015, Springer, pg. 79
- The Magic of Truth: A Reality to Remember, Farrah Dally, 2014, Hamilton Books, pg. 3
- Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan, 1967