MPs call for government probe of how agencies are audited

Written by Rod Muir on 20 February 2019 in News

Damian Collins' committee has been investigating fake news.

MPs have urged the government to look into how lobbying and PR firms are audited “to ensure that their campaigns do not conflict with the UK national interest”.

The call has come from the Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee. It is buried at the back of a report about fake news that was published by the committee earlier this week.

The report highlights the breach of personal data involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. It grabbed headlines for its claim that Facebook had in effect put democracy at risk and a warning that online disinformation is only going to get more sophisticated.

“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day,” warned the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins.

But buried at the back of the report was a curious recommendation that appeared to be focused on the activities of lobbying and PR firms.

It stated: “We recommend that the Government looks into ways that PR and strategic communications companies are audited, possibly by an independent body, to ensure that their campaigns do not conflict with the UK national interest and security concerns and do not obstruct the imposition of legitimate sanctions, as is the case currently with the legal selling of passports. Barriers need to be put in place to ensure that such companies cannot work on both sensitive UK Government projects and with clients whose intention might be to undermine those interests.”

The recommendation has been given short shrift by one public affairs boss. DevoConnect chief executive Gill Morris suggested that the MPs recommending new regulations "don’t really understand what we do".

She also told PRWeek: "The DCMS Select Committee report is commendable, but I don’t think most UK public affairs companies would identify with Cambridge Analytica in terms of their day to day operations.”


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