The Nauruan government has come to the defence of its embattled Brisbane PR agent Lyall Mercer.

As Crikey noted yesterday, Mercer, who does media relations for the Nauruan government, deleted or made private much of his social media and online presences this week, after being condemned by journalists for distributing a police report that named an asylum seeker who said she had been raped.

But in a press statement released this morning, the government urged the Australian media to not refer to the 26-year-old Somali woman at the centre of the story as a rape victim, as a “the police investigation has shown there was no rape”.

Naruan Justice Minister David Adeang said his government had not named the woman in the release distributed by Mercer:

“It is a lie to say we ‘published’ the name. We did not even use her name in our statement. We simply sent a police report to a few media outlets who already knew who she was, in the interests of accountability.

“I haven’t seen her name published anywhere so this is just a smokescreen to protect the embarrassment of the ABC and the Guardian who ran the original story that has now turned out to be false.”

Adeang said the media should stop blaming others, “including the country’s Australian PR company who merely distributed the Government’s statement”.

In Australia, things keep getting worse for Mercer. Yesterday afternoon, the Public Relations Institute of Australia took the unusual step of issuing a statement condemning the release, saying it had been contacted by members over it and while the matter was currently under investigation by the relevant bodies, the PRIA felt the need to signal its ethical concerns about the release of this type of information by a public relations agent.

“PRIA strongly condemns the distribution and publication of any material that involves an invasion of privacy for any individual. The release of personal information that causes harm or distress to any person is strictly in breach of our Code of Ethics.”

The PRIA has been trying to be more involved in setting ethical standards in the rapidly expanding PR industry. It currently has 4000 members out of what’s estimated to be 30,000 PR practitioners in the country. But the institute itself notes that none of the parties involved are members of the PRIA and are thus not bound by its code of ethics. — Myriam Robin

Peter Fray

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