Is Lobbying Public Relations?

Corporate Lobbyist, Nira Radia who owns companies such as ‘Ne U Com Consultancy’, which advises Reliance Industries and ‘Vaishnavi Corporate Communications’ which deals with the Tata Group, was quizzed recently both by the Enforcement Directorate, CBI for her alleged role in 2G Spectrum and License allocation scam. Ms. Radia’s questioning mainly revolved around her role as lobbyist for her high profile clients with interests in telecommunications and also her role in bringing foreign investment into telecom firms in India. There has been an intensive and interesting debate on this issue over e-discussion groups and also media.  Some of the observations of these groups are as follows:

Media reports revealed the alleged role played by Nira Radia, a Lobbyist and a PR professional in this mega scam

“Times Now” channel was highly critical of PR profession itself.  Few such professionals have brought shame to the entire profession

How do you rescue reputation of PR firm from the telecom scandal?

The media is exposing corruption in PR profession.

When the PR profession itself is being debated in media in this scam why none of the CEOs of the big PR firms has come out openly condemning the unethical practices of the profession?

K. Srinivasan of PR Point group has appealed to Media and PR professional bodies to jointly or individually give an open statement upholding ethics and values in communication profession.

Y. Babji of GFPR group has gone ahead and said “Who is Nira Radia? She is a lobbyist and not a PR practitioner and that Nira Radia has generated so much Radia-tion in the PR profession and created too much of confusion.

If we make an analysis of the companies, Nira Radia owns and the roles played she may be described as “Three-in-One”. She seems to have played the role of a consultant to Reliance Industries, a lobbyist in Telecom Scam and a Public Relations Consultant to Tatas.  The confusion arises because she is ‘three-in-one’.  Each role has to be considered independently and that these functions should not be mixed and integrated into one as to blame the Public Relations profession.  Integration perhaps is based on imagination but not in reality.  Unfortunately, lobbying is being treated as public relations both in media and e-discussion groups and the practice of public relations is being defamed as part of telecom scam.

Public Relations Voice, as the journal of PR professionals makes an attempt here to distinguish between public relations and lobbying as two distinct disciplines, from the point of view of academics as well as professional practice. These two areas adopt different approaches in strategy, objectives, target audience, media choice, message formulation, presentation and also in cost.

Definitions

What is Public Relations?

‘Public relations is the management of a two way communication process between an organization and its publics to promote the corporate mission, services, products, reputation and gain public understanding’. Basically, it is the relationship management function based on organization’s performance and service to the stakeholders.  It adopts a multi-media approach to reach varied segmented publics from employees to general community.  The end result of public relations is to create and sustain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.

What is Lobbying?

The origin of lobby is from the Latin word “Lobia” which means “Covered walk”, first used in the sense of Monastic Cloister. From the Latin word, there emerged lobbying as one of the techniques of management to influence legislative process.  In the British Parliament, a large hall that is open to the public and used for the people to meet and talk to Members of Parliament is called lobby, where lobbying is done.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines Lobbying as “to try to influence a politician or the government”. For example, farmers in U.S will lobby the Congress for higher subsidies.  Lobbying is “a process in which lobbyist or pressure groups seek to influence those in power”. Lobbying as such is recognized as a specific activity or specialism in the communication field.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a lobbyist as “a person who tries to influence the voting on legislation or the decisions of government administrators”.  The term lobbyist originally was used to describe the men who sought favors from President Abraham Lincoln who conducted affairs of State in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, near the White House.

From these definitions, we may infer that lobbying may be a specialized sub-set of public affairs but it is not the whole story in terms of public affairs function and cannot and should not be used as a synonym with public affairs or public relations.

One Directory of Washington Lobbyists lists about 30,000 individuals and organizations.  The interests represented by them virtually include the entire spectrum of U.S. business, educational, religious, local, national and international pursuits.  The American Association of Retired Persons is an example of a lobbyist to quote “lobbyists and lobbies are regulated in U.S. by the Lobbying Disclosure Act”. One key provision of this Act stipulates that lobbyists should register with the Congress and disclose their clients, the issue areas in which lobbying is being done, and roughly how much is being paid for it.  Lobbyists paid lavish lunches and drawn-out dinners are forbidden under the Act.  There are also rules for gifts and travel.  Senators and their aides and other Senate Officers are barred from accepting gifts worth more than $50 and from accepting privately paid travel to recreational events. Violators faced civil fines of up to $ 50,000 under the law.

Code of Ethics

The discussion groups also raised a point about ethics in Public Relations.  The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management is an apex body of various national public relations associations of the world which has been established to promote greater professional excellence in the discipline. It has adopted a Global Protocol on ethics in public relations which is acknowledged worldwide for practice.  Clauses relating to ethics as follows:

‘We pledge’ to conduct ourselves professionally with integrity, truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to our clients, our client publics and to an informed society Code of Practice. We believe it is the duty of every association and every member within that association that is part to the code of professional standards to

  • Keep informed and educated about practices in the profession that ensure ethical conduct.

  • Counsel its individual members in proper ethical decision making generally and on a case specific basis.

  • Require that individual members observe the ethical recommendation and behavioral requirements of the code.

PRSI Code of Ethics

The PRSI has adopted code of Athens of the International PR Association as its code of professional ethics on April 21, 1968 at its first All India PR Conference held in New Delhi.  It says ‘members shall refrain from subordinating truth to other requirements.  Taking part in any venture or undertaking which is unethical or dishonest or capable of impairing human dignity and integrity’. Likewise all PR professional bodies in the world have adopted code of ethics in PR.

But it is a million dollar question whether the code of ethics in PR is being implemented in letter and spirit? Professional bodies must implement the code by creating the required awareness among managements and individual members as not to involve in any scams like the Satyam Computers Scam in which the Corporate Communications was a party to the disinformation campaign of mismanagement of finances.

In conclusion, the point for consideration is whether Nira Radia is a lobbyist or public relations practitioner in the telecom scam?  She may have used her Corpcom or PR tag but her actions, her methods, her approach, her target audience, her strategy, the cost involved, her modus operandi and her intentions bear an eloquent proof to the fact that through unfair methods she has influenced and connected the authorities in power.  There was no element of public relations in this issue.  Therefore, public relations cannot be blamed as if it indulged in unethical practice.  However, lobbying in India is yet growing as is in the case of U.S.

There is no law in our country either to regulate lobbying or public relations. Professional Associations such the Confederation of Indian Industry, Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to name a  few are the pressure groups that influence the decision making process of Government in the areas of taxes, imports or exports. They also give advice to the Government on policy making to the advantage of their members.  Similarly, certain individuals like Nira Radia through their consultancies have taken up the task of lobbying in India.  In the wake of economic liberalization, privatization and globalization India offers ample opportunities for lobbying as a specialist area of public affairs when Government of India may enact a law to regulate the lobbyists.

Dr CV Narasimha Reddi, an authority on Public Relations has forwarded his views on Lobbying.

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