Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cross Purposes: I’ve been following the controversy in the U.K. over a dispute between British Airways and one of its employees with interest. In short, BA bars uniformed employees from wearing hanging jewelry—necklaces, in essence—outside their uniforms, ostensibly because of the risk that they will get tangled in luggage, etc. The employee in question, Nadia Eweida, sought an exception for a Christian cross, claiming that since Muslims can wear veils and Sikhs turbans, she should be able to display her cross.

I happen to think that BA should be a little flexible here: whatever point it’s trying to prove is probably not worth the trouble. But the notion that this is an issue of religious freedom—or “a blatant act of religious oppression,” as the reliably hysterical Daily Mail would have it—is ridiculous.

In a free society, people have a right to exercise their religion, but there is nothing in the tenets of Christianity that says wearing a cross publicly (Eweida was told she could wear it under her uniform, but refused) is essential to the practice of the faith. This is not a dispute about the religious freedom but the right to proselytize on behalf of that religion in the workplace.

But it’s a fairly mild and inoffensive form of proselytizing, and as I’ve said, I think the goodwill BA would have earned for allowing it would have outweighed the cost in defending a principle.
Bought and Paid For: I’ve railed in the past about the politicization of science over the past few years, but it’s still disappointing to learn that the National Science Teachers Association has been bought off by the enemies of sound science.

The association was offered free copies of Al Gore’s global warming movie An Inconvenient Truth, which might have made a useful teaching aid. But it rejected the offer, explaining that accepting the DVDs would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.”

One of those supporters, the Washington Post reveals, is ExxonMobil, a company dedicated to ensuring that the truth about climate change is obscured and distorted. The NSTA has received $6 million from the oil company over the past decade. Other corporate donors include Shell and the American Petroleum Institute.
Smoke Screen: The New York Times editorializes about a new study showing that the anti-smoking efforts sponsored by the tobacco industry are “notably ineffective and possibly even a sham.”

Companies like Altria (the former Philip Morris) have spent millions of dollars on ads purportedly designed to discourage underage smoking, but the ads seem to have been more effective at deflecting criticism of the industry than at reducing teen cigarette usage.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health and authored by academic researchers supported by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concluded that ads aimed directly at young people had no beneficial effect, while those aimed at parents were actually harmful: the greater teenagers’ exposure to the ads, the stronger their intention to smoke and the greater their likelihood of having smoked in the past 30 days.

Without taking sides on the merits of the study, one thing is clear: if Philip Morris wants people to believe it is serious in its intent, it is going to have to produce better evidence of its commitment than it did in response to the Times, boasting about the number of teenagers exposed to the campaign. Exposure, obviously, is not the issue, and the company needs to research the impact its anti-smoking ads are having.

Unless, of course, it already has such research, and is secretly pleased with what it shows.