The relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists has generated a lot of interest in the field of communication studies. This is because even though the relationship is mutually beneficial, it has not always been a smooth one (Seitel, 2007). media relations, an aspect of PR, depends on the media to reach organisation's publics. PR practitioners, as a result, rely on the media to inform the public of an organisation's mission, policies and practices in a positive, consistent and credible manner. Journalists, on the other hand, identify and report on that which they deem as newsworthy and of interest to the public. They rely on PR as a source of information. Pincus et al. (1993:29) put it succinctly when they said “Journalists depend on PR practitioners for news material, and practitioners depend on editors for publicity.” Some studies show that newspaper reporters often make use of information provided by PR practitioners (Turk, 1986).
press releases and story ideas that had no news value or relevance to the target group of a media house, and generally being ignorant about the needs of the journalist they were contacting (Sallot and Johnson, 2006; Ryan and Martinson, 1988). Shin and Cameron (2004) also believe that both sides bring conflict to the relationship through the values, attitudes and views they hold of each other. “Journalists seek information while the practitioner seeks publicity from the journalists” (Charron 1994:52). Journalists believe they have a responsibility to get it right while resisting control by the PR practitioner over what is written and broadcasted.
According to Marx et al. (1998:30), “Good PR attempts to influence public opinion in favour of the enterprise.” Journalists felt that PR practitioners served “special interests rather than the public”. PR practitioners also felt journalists had a “narrow and self-righteous” opinion of their work and had little knowledge about public relations, “a profession in which ethical conduct is important” (DeLorme and Fedler, 2003: 99-100). Others (Hobsbawm, 2006; Jenkins, 2006) have said the relationship between journalists and PR practitioners has often been troubled due, in part, to their mutual dependence. Charron (1994:43) said “Public relations practitioners and journalists find themselves mutually dependent on one another, a situation which demands cooperation, while their divergent control interests cause distrust and opposition.” Cameron, Sallot and Curtin (1997), for example, discovered that 25-80% of news stories came from PR practitioners in the USA. In spite of this journalists were reluctant to acknowledge their reliance on PR sources because they wanted to be seen as independent and objective.
Greenslade (2003) maintains that journalists traditionally prided themselves on being more powerful and superior to PR practitioners. Rather than believing PR is a positive, helpful source of information, journalists felt conflicted about using PR materials, needing them on the one hand, while resenting them on the other hand. The success of the PR practitioner in placing
stories in the news was attributed to the fact that most PR practitioners were actually former journalists (DeLorme and Fedler, 2003). Seitel (2007) says that the relationship between journalists and PR practitioners, should be one of “friendly adversaries rather than of bitter enemies” but regrettably, this is not always the case (Seitel, 2007:178).
DeLorme and Fedler (2003) believe difficulties in the relationship can be traced back to the rise of publicity in the 19th century and the unethical tactics, such as bribes, gifts, stunts and fakes, which early PR practitioners used as a way to gain media attention and coverage for their clients and organisations. Press-agentry, a publicity model, had been used deceitfully and that impeded the growth of responsible public relations (DeLorme and Fedler, 2003). For many years this caused people to view public relations with suspicion. Mersham and Skinner (1993) reiterate that public relations had been misused and misunderstood because it was associated with propaganda, press-agentry and manipulation. It was also confused with advertising, marketing and promotion. Over time, this behaviour led journalists to view PR as deceptive, unethical and foolish.
The development of PR in Africa in general, and Ghana in particular dates back decades ago according to Otchere-Daflagbe (2009). The use of certain PR techniques has their genesis of African civilization. Otchere-Daflagbe (2009) likened the task of a PR practitioner to that of a spokesperson or linguist at the chief's palace in traditional African villages. He argued that the concept of PR was not foreign and did not arrive with colonialism or Western media, but existed on the African continent in a different form. The beating of drums, for example, was used to communicate messages from the chief to his subjects. Otchere-Daflagbe (2009) said the history
of PR in Ghana has not been well documented as compared to the history of PR in United States, United Kingdom and some European countries. According to Heath (2005), public relations research in Africa was practically non-existent. Only one master's thesis, written by Margaret Gyan, was found in the search of a database of African theses and dissertations. PR as a practise and an academic discipline has received little attention in Ghana and still occupies an insignificant place on the list of professional bodies and is low in the organisational hierarchy (Heath 2005).
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