Council of Ethics for Communication (Viestinnän eettinen neuvottelukunta)
VEN 2015/1 – Communication concerning a client or a client’s competitor without disclosure of business relationship
1. Cases and issues
The following examples of communication practices have been brought to the attention of the Council:
- In numerous messages posted from his/her Twitter account, a communications consultant has presented criticism of a key competitor of his/her corporate client.
- A communications consultant has praised his/her own client in messages posted from his/her Twitter account. The business relationship between the consultant and the client has not been disclosed in the messages, on the consultant’s Twitter profile, or in other materials readily accessible for the public.
Should a communications professional praise a client or criticize the competitor of a client without disclosing the business relationship? In social media, communication is often technically limited. Should a business relationship be disclosed even on Twitter?
The Council does not make decisions concerning individuals or corporations, but assesses the practices of which the cases act as examples as well as the ensuing ethical questions. The Council’s statements are based on the Communication Code of Ethics. In the assessment of the cases described, the Council finds the following Codes to be relevant:
The communications professional:
- explicitly discloses the involvement of an employer or a client in the content of a message or publication pertaining to them
- openly discloses his or her pertinent interests, ties and obligations
Pertinent ties and obligations entail such interests that are relevant to the public’s assessment of the content of a message. A business relationship between a professional and a client is such a tie, if the content of the message is due to this relationship. Principally, this is the case when the communication had not taken place in the absence of that relationship.
The relevant ties and obligations have been effectively disclosed at least when the text of a message, a signature or the social media profile of a communications professional includes an expression of a business or employment relationship, or when such a relationship is otherwise evident from the context. A communications consultant with numerous clients may find it technically difficult to list all such business relationships. However, technical limitations do not cancel the duty to disclose ties and obligations at least when the communication is considered as whole.
3. Statement of opinion
In both example cases, the communication in question would not have occurred without the business relationship, which is thus pertinent in the assessment of its content, and should have been disclosed. The brief form of Twitter communication entails that even pertinent ties and obligations cannot be expressed in every message. However, they must be disclosed in the whole of the communication. In neither of the examples is this requirement met. The Council finds the communication practices described in examples (a) and (b) to be out of accordance with the Communication Code of Ethics.