Breaking the Chatham House vow of silence

Lots of ethical debate on the PR blogosphere today. Ellee Seymour is asking if it can ever be right to break the Chatham House rules.

In a quite surreal post Ellee talks about attending a conference on freedom of information, secrecy, truth, lies and political spin – only to find out it was under the secrecy of Chatham House rules.

It turns out one speaker – Sir Jeremy Greenstock – had only agreed to attend if it was held under Chatham House rules as he was “concerned about the way his comments would be interpreted”.

I don’t think it has worked for him. My interpretation towards Greenstock is entirely negative, while my respect for the other speakers increases as they have confidence in their opinions and aren’t afraid of being challenged and forced to defend them. Unlike Sir Jeremy Greenstock who has so little confidence in his position that he is afraid to expose it to potential attack.

 

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://blog.hackingcough.com Chris Edwards

    Not this old chestnut again. The Chatham House rule does not say you can't write about what was said – only that you don't identify the speaker or their affiliation. The rule is quite clearly stated at the Chatham House website. It's not some kind of gagging order.

    Anyone speaking in a public forum is clearly not interested in keeping the views they express secret. But they are wary of getting carpeted afterwards, which was why the rule was created. People always speak more freely if they think the quotes won't be attributed to them. They will also lie more freely, but that's one of the things you just have to deal with (and fact-check).

    There is no real sanction for breaking the rule, other than never getting invited back. It's the same old trade-off as with off-the-record or on-background.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/stuartbrucepr/ Stuart Bruce – Wolfstar

    I think Ellee's point, or at least mine was, is that in this instance it was important and relevant to be able to match comments to names/affiliations.

    I know exactly what Chatham House rules are, but they should only be used if needed such as to enable people to say something they would be restricted or prevented from otherwise.

    What touched a nerve with me is that Greenstock of all people has a nerve to think he needs or even deserves that sort of protection.

  • http://blog.hackingcough.com Chris Edwards

    "I know exactly what Chatham House rules are…"

    When you write "vow of silence" and "the secrecy of Chatham House rules", it's frankly hard to tell.

  • http://elleeseymour.com Ellee Seymour

    There must be a correct time and place for Chatham House rules and I simply didn't feel it was appropriate for a freedom of information conference, there was no information to hide or worry about, so it seemed pretty pointless.

  • http://www.sixtysecondview.com David Brain

    Probably the wrong place to post this Stuart so apologies, but I wondered if you had seen this site that Steve Rubel mentioned last week http://www.aircomplane.com/? We were talking a few weeks ago about hotels that charge for access to wireless internet (the Kempinski in Istanbul can be added to the list of great hotels offering free unlimited access by the way). Anyone out there with the time to make a hotel list of shame for those that charge (like the Four Seasons in Lisbon . . . 23 euros for an hour!!!!)

    http://www.aircomplane.com/

  • http://www.sixtysecondview.com/ David Brain

    Probably the wrong place to post this Stuart so apologies, but I wondered if you had seen this site that Steve Rubel mentioned last week http://www.aircomplane.com/? We were talking a few weeks ago about hotels that charge for access to wireless internet (the Kempinski in Istanbul can be added to the list of great hotels offering free unlimited access by the way). Anyone out there with the time to make a hotel list of shame for those that charge (like the Four Seasons in Lisbon . . . 23 euros for an hour!!!!)

    http://www.aircomplane.com/