PRSA Defends the Right of Journalists to Report the News Safely and Without Fear of Reprisal

PRSA has a long-standing commitment to defending the First Amendment and a free, unencumbered press so when leadership learned on Friday, Dec. 18 that journalist and PRSA ICON 2020 speaker Marianna Spring, who specializes in reporting on disinformation for BBC News and World Service, is receiving death threats due to her reporting the organization forcefully responded.

In an inews.co.uk column, Spring stated that her coverage of conspiracies associated with the coronavirus and the U.S. election had markedly increased the level of attacks on her personally, including threats on her life. One message said, “There isn’t going to be anywhere for you to hide when we get to you, and you’ll wish you were dead.” The threat was sent from an account pushing viral conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic.

PRSA Chair T. Garland Stansell, APR, said “PRSA leaders and its members find this behavior utterly reprehensible,” and is calling for all members to renew their efforts to protect a free press.

“As we have defended for years, a free press plays a critical and essential role in society worldwide as a conduit for the people holding publics and individuals accountable. For decades, communications professionals have relied on journalists and news outlets to objectively convey information to the public. Conversely, a vigilant press is necessary to seek, find and share truth with citizens.”

Del Galloway, APR, Fellow PRSA and Chair of ICON 2020, said one of the reasons Spring was invited as a speaker was precisely because she is a leading reporter on disinformation, including the detrimental and sometimes devastating impacts of conspiracies. “She was a powerful speaker and we received tremendous feedback from those who heard Marianna and her message.”

Spring was one of four speakers who addressed subjects relating to disinformation, civility, diversity and inclusion, and civic engagement, all areas related to a major advocacy effort that PRSA will launch in 2021 – Voices4Everyone

“Our charter as a Society is to serve the public good with truthful, honest information that aids the decision-making process and builds trust and mutual understanding,” says Stansell.

”Voices4Everyone is a catalyst for thought leadership internally and externally within the public relations profession, with the intent to inspire change and facilitate important dialogue and action around critical topics.”

Stansell is asking PRSA’s nearly 30,000 professional and student members to not only be vigilant and actively work to counteract disinformation, but to speak out forcefully in their communities when they see freedom of the press being attacked. 

“We are professionals who know how to create and deliver powerful messages and we must use all of the tools and channels at our disposal to counteract disinformation, and actively help educate our communities.”

PRSA has been involved in First Amendment issues for years. Most notably, in 2018, PRSA organized 14 of the world’s leading public relations and communications organizations to issue a collaborative statement voicing collective and unequivocal support of a free press across the world, and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

“We proudly affirm the Fourth Estate as a vital engine of democracy. Without it and without freedom of thought and expression, informed decision-making is not possible and individual freedoms suffer.”

Our members and colleagues around the globe responded, echoing our support for journalists “who bravely seek the truth, focus on facts and hold government, business and other institutions accountable.”

Spring says her work will continue, despite increasing attacks from organized conspiracy groups that deluge her with hate mail and post her picture on their websites. She has enhanced involvement from the security team at BBC and support from colleagues, family and friends, including the leaders of PRSA. 

“My job happens to be sharing the stories of our society’s very real casualties of bad information. Those stories need to be told.”

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