Global TV announced late last night that news anchor Leslie Roberts has been suspended over conflict of interest. In its statement, the station said: “At Global News we take matters of journalistic integrity very seriously.” As a result of being found out, Roberts has apparently resigned from a PR company in which he was secretly a part owner. For years news has been on that slippery slope toward infotainment so I suppose it should not come as any surprise to us that some journalists might also blur the line between news and public relations. The bottom line is that Roberts has been chastised. Global is taking steps to address the issue and hopefully this particular example of journalist malfeasance will soon be over.
But what of the PR company who apparently bribed this Roberts in order to gain unfair advantage for its clients? Because let’s call a spade a shovel, that’s really what we are talking about here. If the hope wasn’t to capitalize on the backdoor opportunity Roberts represented, why offer up an interest in the business?
For years legitimate public relations practitioners have struggled to shake off the negative image of the profession created by charlatans like this who manipulate truth and flog over-hyped goods or services. Through honesty, diligence and hard-work we have claimed ownership of issues such as disclosure and transparency. We are the champions of Corporate Social Responsibility at many of Canada’s leading companies. We have created codes of ethics and standards of conduct. We have worked to elevate the profession and establish our credibility as an important link in the news and information chain. What of us?
The agency involved in this scandal, that I won’t even dignify by naming, has caused great harm to a profession that has often struggled to find a voice at the table. And it will walk away free to continue to pursue whatever work it can find. As for us, the rest of those hard-working, responsible public relations people — how will we recover damages? That’s the question I am asking.