Thursday, 12 February 2009

Can PR ever be ethical

Ethics is very important for crisis management not just in other industries but also in the public relations profession. At what point do you say to your boss you cannot put out some information? It is vital to be aware about ethical dilemmas in PR. It is a matter of concern that professional communicators are frequently faced with ethical issues in their daily life at work to arrive at difficult decisions.

In this session, we went through different crisis situations and what the course tutors wanted to see is how we can handle a crisis. One of them a simple one, was: you assume you work for a computer manufacturer. You send some samples of your new super-thin laptops to selected Journalists on a temporary loan for review. A Journalist asks to keep hers permanently before the review is done. What do you do? Different answers were given.
They included:
- Follow the company's policy
- Consult first with the director
- Politely and diplomatically tell the journalist that it would be unfair as others will also want to keep theirs. etc

What do we learn from this small example? Ethical professionalism is important because it minimises risk. Parsons (2004: 21) provides five pillars that's the claims carry the weight of ethical decision-making in public relations. And that is: "Veracity (tell the truth), non-malfeasance(do no harm), beneficence(do good), confidentiality(respect privacy) and fairness(to be fair and socially responsible).

Steps in decision-making
In Exploring Public Relations by Tench and Yeomans, Ralph Potter of Harvard Divinity School has also defined four steps in ethical decision making. That is:
1. Defining the situation -- get all the relevant facts on the situation and those involved.
2. Identify values -- personal values and what values can be drawn from professional codes of practice.
3. Select principles -- choose framework you and your company supports, and finally
Choose loyalties -- prioritise all stakeholders who demand your loyalty.

I would say if you are making decisions for a company or organisation it will be good to inquire and seek professional advise. Separate personal morals and codes of best professional practice.

Tench & Yeomans (2006) note that: "If a public relations practitioner acts ethically and professionally they are likely to be trusted." (p.290). This means if an expert is for instance not fair to others and is immoral in his/her dealing, then the public would regard that practitioner as unreliable.

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