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Awareness of the Public’s Right to Scrutiny, Adherence to Ethics Critical for Government Communicators

Posted By Scott Thomsen, Sunday, February 3, 2019
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

Welcome to the fishbowl!

Life as a government communicator involves a higher responsibility to transparency and honesty than working in the private sector. We work for the public. And the public, including the media, has the absolute right to scrutinize our work. It’s a right they exercise frequently.

Recognizing that truth is sacred; that providing public information is an essential civil service and that citizens have a right to full, understandable and timely facts about government operations – the starting point for NAGC’s Code of Ethics — is critical when working as a government communicator.

NAGC members get this. It’s not just in our code, it’s in our DNA.

The importance of this core value is easy to see in some recent failures within our field.

The Pentagon’s chief spokesperson left her job recently amid an investigation into multiple complaints of misusing support staff by asking them to run personal errands or work on her mortgage paperwork, then transferring personnel who complained about it.

The investigation is still underway, so the complaints are only complaints at this point. Damage in the court of public opinion and to a career, however, has already been done.
In Baltimore, the mayor introduced a new spokesperson in the morning only to accept his resignation later the same day after questions arose about lawsuits during his tenure as a police officer.

The public and the media are watching. This is a good thing. We want them to pay attention to the work our organizations do. It gives us the opportunity to communicate with the public and inform them.

Speaking on behalf of a government agency is an honor.

As government communicators, we are entrusted with a role that connects people to their government, explains it and enhances it.

There are thousands of us out there doing this every day at a high level. NAGC salutes you. Keep up your great work. It matters. When you do, the water in the fishbowl is just fine.
And if you encounter someone who is falling short of that mark, take it as an opportunity for education. Invite them to learn more about NAGC, our code of ethics and the training we offer to help government communicators do their jobs better, highlighted by our Communications School.

Failures by any government communicator tend to harm the reputation of all government communicators. By offering a hand up to our colleagues, we not only help them improve, we also protect reputations across the board and most importantly protect the trusted relationships with the public we serve.

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