PRSA Miami and GMCC Team Up for Ethics Conference

PRSA Miami and GMCC Team Up for Ethics Conference

Speakers Cite Loss of Trust and Civility

By Virgil Scudder


Left to Right: Terence Shepherd, news director, WLRN News, Kety Esquivel, senior vice president of Edelman Public Relations, Travis Winslow, vice president of Ethics and Compliance at Carnival Corporation & plc.,Jennifer Valdes, account director of rbb Communications, Fred Blevens, Ph.D., professor in the FIU Department of Journalism and Media,  and moderator, Virgil Scudder.

The chapter and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce recently joined forces to tackle one of the most vexing problems of our day: the lack of trust in our institutions, our leaders, our news media, and each other.  PRSA and GMCC presented a seminar on November 9 that brought together four leading experts to discuss the nature of the problem, its impact, and what we can do about it.

Speaking at the seminar at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Miami were Kety Esquivel, senior vice president of Edelman; Travis Winslow, vice president of ethics and compliance at Carnival Corporation; Dr. Fred Blevens, professor at Florida International University’s Department of Journalism and Media; and Terence Shepherd, news director of WLRN.  The seminar, sponsored by Carnival Corporation, was entitled: “Navigating Ethics to Restore Trust and Improve Personal and Business Success.”  It was my pleasure to moderate the session.

Esquivel told the audience the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer shows the largest ever drop in trust across institutions of government, business, media, and non-government organizations.  Perhaps more disturbing, the study showed that an ordinary person’s online post, no matter how biased or uninformed, is more likely to be believed than the observations of a science expert or leader of business or government.

The Edelman executive said, “The cycle of distrust is magnified by a media echo chamber that reinforces personal beliefs while shutting out other points of view.  Many people don’t necessarily care about what’s true or even want to hear about what’s true.  Fifty-two percent of the people surveyed said they don’t even talk to people with whom they disagree.”

Other speakers also pointed the finger at social media and how people use it and respond to it.  Professor Blevens, a former print journalist, specifically singled out Twitter, saying it not only disseminates biased and false statements but also statements out of context.  He noted, “you can’t contextualize anything in 144 characters.”  He advises his students to completely shut down their Twitter accounts, read publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and tune in to NPR and PBS to get facts and get them in context.

WLRN’s Shepherd also pointed to social media as a source of today’s disinformation problem.  He conceded that responsible media outlets are biased but with an honorable purpose: he said they are biased toward “news, truth, accuracy, and fairness.”  Social media, he declared, has been the Achilles heel of some major media outlets, especially broadcast, as they often pass along erroneous information from social media in a rush to be first with a story.

Trust and civility were also prominent topics in the seminar.  Carnival’s Winslow stated that 27 companies paid over $2 ½-billion in fines and costs in 2016 for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and far more in related expenses.  Many people had to know about these serious law violations, he stated, but didn’t take steps to stop them.  Why?  Most likely, he claimed, it was a failure of trust: they didn’t trust their companies to back them up and do the right thing. 

All speakers acknowledged the decline of civility in our politics and our public discourse.  Said Esquivel, “We have come to a tipping point in a very dangerous direction but we’ve been in dangerous places in the past but I believe we can come back to a place of civility, a place of more trust, and create a better future.”

Dr. Blevens added, “If we don’t start discussing soon how to get back to a more civil society—and we were a more civil society not that long ago—we’re going to work ourselves into complete disfunction: on the political side, on the social side, and on the cultural side.”

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