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I work hard to gain a journalist’s trust. And I find that generally that trust is reciprocated.

Like any relationship, there’s a learned contract – we learn to trust each other. And flip that – if a PR person lies once to a journalist, it’s never forgotten. And likewise, if a journalist breaks trust, say with inaccurate and unfair bias.

In a country that increasingly values trust, the PR sector and journalists generally have a low opinion of each other, and both professions are distrusted by large sectors of the community?

Why is that?

One reason is that both sectors have professional bodies that do too little to correct that.

Even under the pressure of disruption, some sectors of the media still dish up dross, and sectors of the PR sector feed it: misinformation, pay-to-play journalism, lack of independence and transparency, tardiness on corrections, etc. Garbage in, garbage out.

And neither is regulated appropriately for this era. Compare that to the legal and many other professions where there is a high barrier to entry and required ongoing professional development, plus, importantly, suspension for transgressions.

What a difference to trust improved standards would make! And it’s what the community wants.

What if journalists had a voluntary certification program, so that they can be accredited? The accreditation could include a required base level set of standards and then ongoing master classes – for instance, the hunt for accuracy through case studies of current defamation cases (Ben Roberts-Smith) or contemporary sensitivities and ethics by debating role models’ current right to privacy (Rebel Wilson).

Large publishers could already have these programs, but what about the emerging and under-resourced niche publishers and regional publications with a tiny team of journos?

The same goes for PR agencies. Without a national accreditation program, Wilkinson Butler is one of a number of agencies that have built those elements into its own Code of Conduct, employment expectations, and ‘continuous learning’ program.

I believe higher standards are now more critical, as audiences are struggling to sift facts from the noise, and at the same time our trust-hungry audiences are increasingly media snacking instead of reading.

Having written all that, I have hero journalists and PR folk who are role models. As individuals, they stand out, despite the above proposal, and I deeply respect their ethics and dedication to their crafts.

Author Peter Wilkinson

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