After a flurry of sackings in the media industry due to opinions made on personal social media accounts, we ask, should media professionals be able to voice their opinions without the worry of being fired?
“YES” says Dalia Halabi, Senior Account Executive, Memac Ogilvy Public Relations, Dubai
“Firing someone because of a personal opinion shared on their personal social media account is an overt infringement of their human right”
The Universal Deceleration of Human Rights defines freedom of expression as the right to hold opinions without intervention. Unfortunately, this basic human right continues to be trampled upon, and the recent influx of firings in the media industry is indicative of the bankruptcy of a collective moral compass. With censorship, restrictive press legislation, and the persecution of journalists and bloggers, the media have become paralysed. Should media professionals have to live with the fear of being fired for practicing their fundamental human right?
On the one hand, a cornerstone of journalistic integrity entails objective and bias-free work. Sociologist Michael Schudson defined journalistic objectivity as “faith in facts, distrust in values and a commitment to their segregation.” This suggests that media professionals be considered free bodies that exist as separate entities, in the sense that they should be free from the pressures of government and interest groups. Ultimately, this neutrality is a public service paramount to the effective broadcasting of information and contribution to the public’s overall understanding of news. So, when it comes to respecting the sanctity of their role as opinion leaders, their professional platforms must be completely neutral.
But, when it comes to their personal social media platforms, a line must be drawn. The social media-sphere is a place where opinions run rampant; it is why social media has become such an integrated part of our society. It is a rabbit hole to fall through where freedom of expression is the default setting, empowering us to voice our opinions without fear. An unspoken disclaimer is attached to these channels – that the opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect that of the organisation in which they work. So, firing someone because of a personal opinion shared on their personal social media account is an overt infringement of their human right.
It is important to note however, there are limits. Who can forget the PR debacle of Justine Sacco – her racist comments caused quite the frenzy on Twitter as she mocked AIDs, in what is probably the worst tweet ever. Needless to say, she lost her job, and probably her career. To again reference the aforementioned point that journalists are public influencers, so they have a mighty responsibility to ensure that their opinions remain politically correct and respectful – but this is really a matter of common decency.
In conclusion, it is paramount that journalists’ opinions do not transcend the boundaries of their private persona and infiltrate their work. Regardless, it is their right to express their opinions on their personal social media accounts, without fear of getting sacked, but it is vital that they uphold moral decorum when doing so. As Voltaire eloquently stated, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
“NO” says Fatima El Malki, Social Media Manager, Active Public Relations
“Sure you can voice your opinion on personal social media accounts, but be wary of your reputation within this industry and the business professionals you’re connected with”
I’m still cringing at that racist tweet from a PR professional. You know which one I’m referring to. If not, let me help refresh your memory; Justine Sacco, a director of communications for InterActiveCorp (IAC), was embarking on a trip to Africa and decided to share her thoughts on Twitter. “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”. Although her Twitter handle initially wasn’t followed by many, it only took a couple of hours for that single message to shoot across many continents, ultimately getting her fired on arrival in Africa. To make things worse, whilst she was crossing the pond, her tweet became a trending topic with people commenting with the hash tag #HasJustineLandedYet.
Given that it was an open account, sure, it was easier to get her tweet out in the Twitter sphere. However, Twitter allows followers of private accounts to quote tweets as an option to share whatever someone says in his/her private networks, which ultimately makes any message that you tweet shareable on the platform. You’re not as safe as you think on the Internet! Alas, in Justine’s case her reputation as a PR professional was ruined already prior to deleting her tweet upon arrival as a desperate attempt to turn things around for herself.
Now picture yourself starting out as a PR professional or journalist in Dubai. At first, there will be a distinct separation between people who you work with and the ones you can share your most secretive stories with. A couple of months in, you’ll realise how small the media industry is. You will get to know journalists and PRs on a more personal level and after a while, the lines will be blurred. You will add people you know from the industry on your personal social media accounts and share with them whatever you would normally share with your closest friends.
It is key to recognise how critical it is to keep mum about certain topics you don’t mind sharing with your close friends, but are considered inappropriate within the industry. For instance, you’re attending an awards show on behalf of your client and you’ve spotted a fellow PR agency team acting out. Naturally, you might think this would amuse your friends on Facebook by sharing it, so you do. It won’t do any harm, because you’ve made sure your privacy settings are on lock to protect your messages from the outside world. However, a business professional, say, a journalist who likes to gossip, and who happens to be connected with you on Facebook, spots your latest status update and knows who you’re talking about. It’s out and you’ve offended a whole company! As illustrated in Justine’s case, bad news travels faster than good. This is especially true for us business professionals in the media industry, where we know each other by face.
Sure you can voice your opinion on personal social media accounts, but be wary of your reputation within this industry and the business professionals you’re connected with. Know where the boundaries are in terms of sharing certain things that do unveil information about yourself or others that need to be kept under wraps, or in worse cases, you will end up getting fired.