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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2006 / 30 Mar-Cheshvan, 5767

Public Service or Public Relations?

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Do professionals need to strive for complete objectivity?


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: My public relations firm distributes "matte releases" — press releases that are published like a regular news article. Is this ethical?


A: Let's explain this distinction a little further for readers. An ordinary press release is an information sheet issued by an organization with information they believe will be of interest to the media. The hope is that information from the release will stimulate a news article about the organization or its products and activities. A matte release goes further: information favorable to the issuer is presented in the style of a complete article in the hope that content-hungry publications will publish the entire release as is. A publication of the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines a matte release as "a free non-copyrighted preformatted news article made available to newspapers (typically second-tier papers) looking for stories." These special press releases may be sent out by commercial firms because the content favors their product or image; they are also a common tool of non-profit organizations which use them to get out their message. Many "public-service" articles are actually matte releases of public-service organizations. Another source is government agencies, like the CDC.


In some ways this sounds like an "advertorial". Sometimes a company will place an ad which is carefully designed to look like a news article. The unsuspecting reader thinks that the point of view is that of an objective reporter or editor, not knowing that the piece is actually advertising copy. In a previous article, we explained that an unmarked advertorial is forbidden. The reason is that an advertorial is advocacy, or salesmanship, camouflaged as objective editorial content.


Jewish law permits salesmanship. While salespeople must provide only accurate information and reveal any defects, they are allowed to make a one-side presentation which shows the customer the benefits of their product. The Talmud states that it is not unfair competition for a storekeeper to offer customers inducements to come specifically to his store, since competitors are welcome to do likewise. (1) By the same token, a storekeeper can point out the benefits of his own product, allowing competitors an equal opportunity to tout the benefits of their own wares.


But someone who claims to be giving advice must be completely objective and reveal any conflicts of interest. Such a person is not allowed to act like a salesperson. The Torah commands us, "Don't place an obstacle before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14); Rashi's commentary explains that we should not place an obstacle before someone who is blind to the best course of action, by giving self-serving advice. Since readers assume that a newspaper is neutral and does not advocate products for its own benefit, a hidden advertorial violates this mandate.


It also forbidden for the PR firm to simply rely on the editor to ensure that content meets editorial standards. If the material is likely to cause him to deviate from these standards, the PR professional is at fault. The Mishna tells us that someone who has a barrel of diluted wine may not sell it to a merchant even if the merchant is informed, because the merchant is so likely to sell it to his own customers without informing them. (2)


In the case of advertorials, the content is almost invariably "advocacy", and the judgment of the editor is very likely to be swayed by the fact that it is a paid advertisement. Matte releases are a slightly different story. They are not paid for, though they do save the editor money. And unlike advertorials, the issuer does not dictate the format of the article. Editors do not print every matte release, and they sometimes will print only part of one.


Thus, it is the issuer's job to ensure that the press release meets accepted editorial standards of newsworthiness, balance, and accuracy. Otherwise, he is in effect trying to dupe the editor into betraying his obligation to his readers - like the wholesaler selling diluted wine to a retailer. But if these standards are met, and the editor himself is informed that the item is a matte release, it is not unreasonable to rely on the judgment of the editor to apply these standards.


An ethical use of the matte release format would be to write up a genuinely newsworthy item in an impartial fashion, because the information provided will make readers aware of the benefit the issuer's product can provide. Example: a particular over-the-counter remedy doesn't induce drowsiness, but some competing products do. A matte release alerts readers to the dangers of driving while taking drowsiness-inducing medications, and mentions that alternatives are available. This in itself is a valuable public service. (The actual release in question also mentioned the name of the product. This is legitimate only if other remedies of comparable benefit are also mentioned.)


Editors should be clearly informed that they are under no pressure to use the release at all, or to use it in its entirety. This assertions needs to be backed up by a lack of sanctions. For example, publications shouldn't be blacklisted for advertising or for future matte release distributions because they edit them or don't run them enough.


Editors in turn need to be alert and responsible. Many matte releases, especially those from public agencies or public service groups, are unproblematic. However, there is no question that commercial matte releases often present problems. One website advises that firms shouldn't use matte releases if lawyers are in control of their public relations strategy, which I interpret as a hint that lawyers wouldn't sanction some of these releases. So editors must examine all matte releases critically and be fully convinced that they meet all editorial standards of their publications. Choices between releases of competing firms should be decided on editorial criteria, not commercial ones. And these safeguards shouldn't be left to chance; rather publications should adopt explicit policies regarding the placement of matte releases.


The matte release is a fundamentally legitimate public relations tool which however lends itself to easy abuse. PR firms and editors alike must exercise extra caution to make sure that these releases meet all relevant standards of quality, objectivity, and newsworthiness.


SOURCES:(1) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 60a. (2) Mishna, Bava Metzia 4:11

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes inspiring articles. Sign up for our daily update. It's free. Just click here.


JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.

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Previously:

Do professionals need to strive for complete objectivity?
Does future reward make ethical behavior selfish?
The whole truth — Even in the marketplace?
Judaism and the afterlife: Reincarnation, heaven and hell
The Jewish belief in resurrection of the dead affects how will live in the here and now
Ethical guidelines on what to say and what's proper to keep to yourself
Is it wrong to get credit for something you didn't do?
Ethics and sportsmanship
The ethics of forwarding email
Must a supplier honor a discount offered by a rogue sales representative?
Should I boycott my daughter's fashion show?
Should you respond to all those annoying email pop-up requests?
Do I have to reimburse someone who tried to do me a favor?
Seeking credit card debt settlement
Can I threaten to spread the word about someone who cheated me?
How can the terminally ill tap into their life insurance?
Is there value in an unhappy marriage?
Where does the Almighty fit into your corporation's mission statement?
Does an expert witness have to be impartial?
Should I give recognition to a modest man who did a great deed?
In representing my firm, can I tell a white lie?
Defrauding insurance to save a life
Can top level management unilaterally give away money to corporate dollars to charity?
Loans to Family Members
How much worker supervision is too much?
Should I turn in a colleague for inappropriate acts?
Priority in charitable giving
Trolls and ogres
How many hours of work is too many?
Can I promote my product by having it unobtrusively written into a story?
He's not heavy he's my brother
All's fair in war?, II
All's fair in war?
Girth vs. worth
Is it proper to tax bequests?
Ethics of Being Overweight
Penalized for working swiftly
When is it a bluff?
'Rate and switch'
My paycheck is late!
Should schools cater to an elite?
All's fair in love?
Comfort and Competition
Do I need the caller's permission to put a call on the speakerphone?
Overtime for lost time
Is it unethical to play suppliers against each other to get the lowest bid possible?
Do family members have precedence in charity allotments?
What the world of business can teach us about our annual process of repentance and renewal
Are religious leaders subject to criticism?
Vindictive Vendor: How can I punish an abusive competitor?
Blogging Ethics: Is the blogger responsible for defamatory posts?







© 2005, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics