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Our election guidance for PR course students

By Cleland Thom

Many of our PR course students work for businesses and organisations that are affected by the General and Local elections.

And that means they may find their work is affected, especially when dealing with government departments and quangos.

Here are some brief legal guidelines that will help online PR course students, and PRs, during the campaigns.

  1. Central and local government departments and some Quangos will observe election "purdah". They suspend activities that could call their political impartiality into question. This might affect how PRs respond to you.

They will only give limited comments on issues that arise during the election campaign.

Many businesses will follow suit. Avoid any kind of quote, statement or announcement that could be used to imply political bias / criticism. Some candidates and pressure groups will try and politicise you for their own ends.

  1. If your business is criticised at an election meeting or a press conference, you have the legal right of reply.

  2. You also have the right of reply if you’re criticised in a candidate’s Election Address.

  3. Watch out for your company’s logo being used on election leaflets or in other material. You may have the right to get the leaflet withdrawn.

  4. You and your colleagues have the right to attend any election public meeting, though the right to speak would be at the chairman’s discretion.

  5. Check election leaflets for cuttings that include your company’s quotes or logo. This use could create a copyright or trademark issue. Challenge misuse unless the publicity suits you.

  6. Take care responding to second-hand information. For example, a reporter may ask you: "The Labour candidate claims that pollution from your garage has been poisoning fish in the village pond for 5 years." Check to make sure the Labour candidate actually said this.

  7. Make sure you think twice before giving reactives, in case you are being set up.

  8. For instance, a reporter may "innocently" ask you to comment on X. You give a quote, without realising that X is a prominent Labour party policy. 

  9. The reporter then writes: "The company is right behind Labour’s plan for X". Bear in mind that parties may put a political spin on your press releases. Take care with press releases about "old chestnuts" that have caused political controversy in the past.

  10. Weigh up carefully whether to take part in phone-ins or live debates with election candidates and pressure groups. Decide what you will get out of it, and what you might lose.

  11. Monitor Twitter and Facebook in case your organisation is dragged in to an election issue. It may well happen - we’re living in a politically charged climate right now.

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