Public relations is among the most abused professions in Kenya. PR is what teaching was some years ago, where the profession admitted all and sundry regardless of qualification. No wonder in organisations, communication is usually viewed as general duties.
Due to lack of standards, PR has also attracted spin doctors and outright con artists, who have perfected the art of pulling the wool over the eyes of clients, or even employers. Basically, it has been open season in the communication field.
Therefore, the ongoing debate on the proposed Institute of Public Relations and Communication (IPRC) Act is long overdue. It seems the communication fraternity has been jolted from denial and smelt the coffee.
The structure and substance of IPRC Bill are now under scrutiny in the public participation process. Unfortunately, it has not elicited a wide response from industry players. This confirms the ambiguity of the profession’s scope and standards as currently constituted.
One reason for this sad status is the fact that many of the pioneers in the PR profession have had a blank cheque for long. Due to ignorance by clients and employers on what professionalism in communication entails, self-fashioned practitioners have exploited this loophole.
Indeed, the PR profession in Kenya has operated as a cartel. Big jobs and contracts are shared within a closed group of cronies. Consequently, many bluff through what are otherwise sophisticated assignments, leading to a blanket condemnation of communication specialists as inferior to other professions.
The IPRC Bill follows in the tradition of massaging the egos of influential forces in the profession. It has failed to borrow a leaf from other firm professional legislation. For instance, there is a lot to learn from the human resource management profession, which is now under a new era of the Human Resource Management Professionals Act, 2012.
Other progressive professional bodies that PR can borrow from are the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya and the Law Society of Kenya. These bodies have the teeth to back up their bark, and members behaving badly operate under the sword of Damocles.
In this era of fake news and propaganda, unprofessional PR practices cannot be ignored. Misinformation, or lies, can be costly to both individuals and organisations.
Suffice it to say that drafters of the bill need to borrow a best practice from established professional bodies in Kenya. We do not need to reinvent the wheel here. And to guard against professional malpractices and earn respect from other professions, seasoned communication professionals must step out from their cocoons and roll up their sleeves for the murky work ahead.
Unfortunately, there will be casualties at the end. Many will be forced to go back to school in order to meet the minimum academic and professional qualifications for practice.
We must trace our steps back where the doors were opened to all and sundry, in order to get a cure for the mediocrity undermining the profession. Most importantly, the Bill must define the different sectors under communication, including PR, marketing and advertising. – The writer is the Executive Director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness—[email protected]