It is estimated that the emerging importance of public relation begun in the late 19 century. However, it has begun to be taken seriously as one instrument of success by different organizations lately in the 1970s. Various scholars around the world attempted to define and come up with clear concept of what public relation is and the areas it mainly focus on. Yet, there is no internationally agreed definition of what exactly public relation is about. However, there is widely accepted consent regarding the significance of public relations in promoting and continuously developing an institution be it business or public organizations.
The American scholars attempted to define what public relations in the 1970s. According to their definition, Public relation is a profession which is part of social science that serves as bridge among customers and organizations. They further widened its scope of definition and concluded that it is a basic instrument for survival of any organization through receiving opinions and complains to use them as an input to further improve its delivering service and goods so that it can remain intact with its customers.
Other scholars also have very similar definition and aim of public relations:
“Public relation is a profession or practice of creating good will of organizations, various public (investors, customers, employees, suppliers etc) usually through publicity and other nonpaid forms of communication.
Every organization no matter how large or small ultimately depends on its reputation for survival and success. Public relation is about reputation-the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you, they concluded.
Generally, public relation is, therefore, can be defined as the discipline of social science which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influence opinion and behavior. It is the planned and sustained efforts to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.
Political parties, governments, business organizations for this reason establish public relation department and work tirelessly to introduce their program and receive opinions from customers. The critics and opinion they receive from their customers help them what to improve and what to do in the next so that they could maintain good working relations between the customers and organizations.
Thus, Public relation serves as mirror and bridge between the organizations and their customers. It seemed very hard nowadays to survive without successfully conducting public relations. Particularly, governments who faced serious challenges to survive and indulged themselves in serious crisis leave no stone unturned to come out of their catastrophe through conducting massive public relations. And political parties who aspire to hold state power should undertake successful public relation activities just because it is unthinkable for them to win public elections without introducing and working on their programs to be accepted by the public. This is only to be done through public relations. Political parties who won elections also need to work hard on public relation activities to maintain their stay in power and sustain their voters intact.
To be more precise, having successful public relation is not a matter of choice but a matter of survival.
Public Relation activities in Ethiopia
Practicing public relation activities in Ethiopia is a recent phenomenon. In the last regimes public relation profession was being underway in a traditional way. However, it is currently being used and well understood its benefits by private and governmental organizations. Yet, it is still in its low level when measured objectively from scientific point of view.
From the government point of view, public relation has two fundamental national missions: that is to create national consensus locally and building Ethiopia’s good image in the outside world. It is to be realized through the two main missions mentioned above when seen from the national level policy. It was established to create awareness locally of the benefit of unity based on diversity and the need to intensify the democratic institutions and fair and fast economic development which are reportedly said pillars to save the nation from disintegration and engulfed by civil war. It is also equipped with the aim of building the good image of Ethiopia in the external world in the spirit of the investment, trade, tourism sectors flow steadily to the country so that the sectors can contribute hugely to the steadily growing and diversifying economies. It also aspires that Ethiopia should get its deserved place in the international politics through creating the true image and conditions of the country.
Ultimately, the purpose of practicing public relation was to teach the importance of tolerance, unity based on diversity and create good image of Ethiopia externally to collectively beat the acute poverty and strengthen the democratic principles which are the pillars of the nation to survive and continue politically stable.
Evaluating, thus, objectively what has been done in realities regarding public relation in Ethiopia in the last 20 years in achieving the two huge missions, it is not enough. Much remains to be done. For example, the party and government public relation and public Medias established to carry out these significant plans have either failed to realize or are not willing to do so. The various Medias of the government or the Party’s even failed to introduce the basic concept and benefit of federalism, constitution, and development to the very people targeted to be aware of.
The government introduced the concept of developmental journalism to be the guidance of the public Medias where they even badly failed to be guided by it. Investigative journalism was also introduced to assess and expose corruption, bad governance and other illegal activities and encourage good doings of the public endeavors but Media center was not interested or committed in implementing it. As a result, rent seekers have been hiding and comfortable just because we did not practice investigative journalism. The party formulated serious national policies like industry, foreign security policy and strategy, rural and agricultural policy, investment policy and other sound policies. However, either its branch of public relation or the Medias did not give much attention in providing the public detailed analysis and significance of the various policies and their current fruits. The public relation did not do enough activities in making the general public aware of what democratic developmental state means, or the vision and the mission of the country. Much is left even in telling the public about the products of the various policies in the last 20 years, where Ethiopia is currently found and where it is heading to as well.
What are the fruits of the federalism system, the constitution, the policies in the last 20 years and what are the achievements and failures too? What are the future challenges of the state and their solutions? These critical concepts which are very important to Ethiopians are not even well understood by the majority of civil servants and party cadres, journalists, university community and the very people of Ethiopia at large. It will not be a mistake to argue the many senior party members and government officials do not understand the above mentioned concepts well. We have seen them while delivering mistaken concepts to the public at gathering ceremonies which is clearly an indication of their limited understanding what their party, government is doing.
Generally, the public relation of the government or the party might have attempted fragmentally to introduce and give detailed accounts of the various policies to the public. However, I personally question its consistency and the way handled and delivered to the general public. Was convincing or not? Or did the public understand it properly or not? Has the country been guided by these principles generally or not? No, never! As a result, Ethiopia has produced a generation of not aware of its own country. Human development is either postponed or denied. Simply physical economic growth takes us nowhere if not complied with human development. That is why we have seen people ruining their own development projects, health institutions and other basic social property in the Amhara Regional State and Oromia.
How many of the Ethiopians understand the ideologies of the party, the doings of the government? How many of them were made aware of it? What did the public relation and the Medias do so far to let the public well aware of it? How about the new generation understanding where Ethiopia was and where it is now and where it is heading to? The status Ethiopia has gone through the three governments must be held live. Fairly enough, the Medias and PR both in the government and private organizations have been twisted to serving personalities in promoting personal cults just because of one’s closeness to the person or nepotism. The overall purpose of the Media and the public relation profession lacked the necessary leadership to serve the people and the country.
The outcomes of not using public relation AND Medias
We have said above that the public, the university community, the media community, the cadre of the party, the civil servants of the government and most importantly the current generations were not made well aware of the country’s major political and economic policies. That the purpose of introducing language based federalism, the constitution, the concept of revolutionary democracy of EPRDF’s guiding ideology, the democratic developmental state of the state’s guiding principle etc were not properly addressed and introduced to the above mentioned section of society. Therefore, it is fair to argue that the Medias and public section of both the party and the government somewhat failed to accomplish their missions. It is fair to say that the Public, party and private Medias turned against the EPRDF and hence impacted the people to be confused, uncertain and misguided. As a result, we are observing uncertainty in the minds of many Ethiopians on the current and future status of the country under EPRDF leadership.
Because of not enhancing our public relation, guessingly three types of groups are taking grounds in Ethiopia. The big nation chauvinists, narrow nationalists and rent seekers are comfortably living and flourishing taking advantage of the poor communication we have with the mass. It is common to see some Ethiopians going against their basic benefits knowingly or unknowingly. The sworn enemies of the federalism system, the constitutional order are very few and are not having public support. However, they are taking the advantage of the gap of knowledge in pushing people to go against their benefit. The recent riots observed in Oromia, Amhara region are self-evident that we need to intensify the public sectors and Medias to purposely make Ethiopians aware of the major policies and systems of the country, outcomes and about the past history and nature of chauvinists and the agenda they want to execute.
By doing so continuously and purposefully, we can single out and isolate the remnants of the last feudal and Derg regimes from misguiding some people. Making our policies and their fruits and limitations accompanied with solutions to be familiar by the public is the only weapon to weaken the big nation chauvinists and narrow nationalists. Also, how the rent seekers are dangerous to the very existence of the nation must be properly told to the public at large. Hence, the people can fight against them.
This is possible through realizing public relation. The Medias and the public relation sections must go in harmony to execute the aims. By doing so, the three big enemies of the country- the big nation chauvinists, narrow nationalists and rent seekers will not find hiding place if the majority people are well aware of our economic policies, the benefit of the federal arrangement and constitutional order, the fruits of the policies, their limitations and their solutions.