The truth is rarely pure and never simple” (Oscar Wilde)

Veracity is a big word for truth. The dictionary defines veracity as “conformity to facts.” Public relations (PR) professionals take pride in saying that facts are their stock- in- trade. In other words they deal in veracity. The public, however, may not be so sure. When people complain about ‘just rhetoric,’ ‘propaganda,’ or ‘spin,’ they are casting doubt on the veracity of a message, usually a media message produced for news stories or commercial advertisements.

News stories and commercial advertisements run short of veracity for a few standard reasons:
  • They are deliberately incomplete to hide inconvenient truths from the public.
  • They are misleading.
  • They are based on gossip, not on serious investigation.
  • Messages use high sounding labels and straplines for bad stuff.
  • Messages make bad data sound good, or good data sound better than they are.

IIn the current economic climate, veracity is taking a hit. The media is full of examples.

For example, statistics that no serious researcher would consider significant are often cited to provide data for news stories about stirrings of economic growth or improvement in the economy. Mystifying terminologies are used to glamorize downright dangerous policies: for example, “quantitative easing” dresses up plain money printing, such that it presents what can only be called, in biblical language, a “lying vision” for an approach that is a high risk for the tragedy of hyper inflation as experienced in Weimar Germany.

The Oath of a Public Speaker, D.C. Bryant and Karl Wallace outlined some pledges which PR practitioners could adapt for a personal commitment to veracity in the communications they compose:

I will never let my desire to succeed lead me to use false, or sophistic methods of [persuasion]; I will not knowingly withhold any essential information from my hearers and neither distort nor warp facts or the statements of others.

Veracity in corporate communications is a key concern of an enlightening article by Patricia Parsons.
This article coves a phenomenon that deserves a lot of attention from everyone, disease branding: “a marketing communication strategy that relies on the tactic of creating or exaggerating a disease with the objective of effectively enlarging the market [for pharmaceutical products, devices or services].” This communication strategy is a form of mendacity, and mendacity is the antithesis of veracity. Abstractly, mendacity is always unethical whilst veracity is ethical. This thought is, perhaps, a factor in the concern of Parsons that although it may be legal, disease branding may still be unethical work for PR practitioners. This justifiable concern applies also to the use, by PR professionals in government and the financial services industry, of weak statistics and mystifying language to exaggerate trends in the economy such that they deceive rank and file citizens about the true state of things and their own financial security.

PR practitioners should take veracity seriously, because it underscores public trust, a sustaining value for their profession. The PR profession stands to lose credibility and respect if its work is seen as the production of spin to establish socio-economic conformity, to push profit making consumerism. Commitment to veracity can protect PR practitioners from becoming complicit in communications that amount, in the words of the famous writer Aldous Huxley, to “false and pernicious propaganda.” In the logic of Huxley’s discourse below, PR practitioners should be mindful that when language strays from veracity it is vulnerable to perversity:
Language has made possible...[people,s] progress from animality to civilization. But language has also inspired folly and wickedness which are no less characteristic of human behaviour than are the language inspired virtues.

  • Oxford Dictionary of English (2003) (Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, Eds.), p.1957.
  • Jeremiah, 14:14. The Daily Reading Bible (English Standard Version).
  • Robert L. Heath. (2000). A rhetorical perspective on the values of public relations: Crossroads and pathways
  • Toward concurrence. Journal of Public Relations Research, 12 (1), 69-91.
  • Parsons, P. (2007). Integrating ethics with strategy: analyzing disease-branding. Corporate Communications: An
  • International Journal, 12 (3), 267-279.
  • Huxley, Aldous (as cited in Bressler, M. 1959, p.17). Mass persuasion and the analysis of language: A criticalevaluation. Journal of Educational Sociology, 33 (1), 17-27. http://www.jstor.or/stable/2264322