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Ethics And Public Relations

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Autor:   •  December 9, 2010  •  2,712 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,781 Views

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PR 350: International Public Relations

Academic Essay

Table of Contents

 Question 3

1. Introduction 4

2. Definition of Ethics 5

3. Should ethical behaviour differ from country to country? 8

4. How can public relations practitioners an international

company's ethical behaviour? 11

5. Conclusion 13

6. References 14


Ethics and public relations - some might say it is an oxymoron. What is your definition of ethics? Should ethical behaviour differ from country to country? How can public relations practitioners influence an international company's ethical behaviour? Discuss using international examples.

1. Introduction

In today's fast moving business world; where mergers, friendly and hostile takeovers, bankruptcy, and corporate scandals reign supreme; a company's image and reputation are perhaps two of the most important assets a firm may possess. Creating "just the right image" in the public's eye is essential for the survival of any organization and why many organisations today either hire a public relations agency or have their own public relations department.

Unfortunately, for many public relations practitioners, this means using whatever means possible; including foregoing all ethical virtues, in order to create that "right image" for their client and for their organisation. It is because of the dubious practices by these practitioners that led journalists to call public relations practitioners "PR flakkers", a derisive term given by journalists to PR people for putting forth slanted, self-serving information, which does not tell the whole story most of the time (Vivian, 1999, p.309).

Therefore, this academic essay aims to discuss whether ethics and PR can work hand-in-hand even though it may be considered an oxymoron relationship, whether ethical behaviour should be different from country to country and how public relations practitioners can use ethics to help influence international companies.

2. Definition of Ethics

Ethics or ethic originates from the Latin word ethice, which means "the science of morals" (Soanes, 2002, p.374). So, ethics is basically a study of moral principles but it still covers a broad range of definitions and many scholars had debated till the cows come home on how to define ethics and what ethics really entails. Robinson & Garratt (2000) could not have put it better when they stated "everyone is interested in ethics..." because "... people no longer behave as they should" (p.3). This is true if we see the recent spate of unethical behaviour that has ruined organisations and people in the world. One classic example is none other than the spectacular collapse of Enron because of mismanagement of funds in 2001. If public relations practitioners hold steadfast to their ethical principles, cases such as Enron could have been avoided.

But how is ethics defined in the first place? How can we differentiate between the right and wrong? Well, according to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, ethics can be defined as "standards of conduct that indicate how one should behave based on moral duties and virtues" (Holt, 2002, 1). This basically means that we rely on our own individual judgments on what we think is morally right and what is morally wrong. Over the centuries, there have been various thinkers and philosophers creating various ethical principles and thoughts that dictate how we should act but it still depends on the individual to make that ethical decision. For example, if a public relations practitioner feel that it is ethical to tell little white lies to help his company because he thinks that it would not hurt anyone, then, that would be his ethical principle. However, the fact remains that a lie is a lie and it is wrong no matter how white or small the lie is. Codes of ethics will not stop the individual from wrong practices but it only serves as a guideline for the individual and only suggests how the individual should act ethically.

Nevertheless, Holt continues to say that the definition of ethics is actually somewhat consistent from scholar to scholar (Holt, 2002, 1). I agree with her. Mark McElreath defined ethics as a "set of criteria by which decisions are made about what is right and what is wrong" (Baskin, Aronoff & Lattimore, 1997, p.90). Baskin, Aronoff & Lattimore themselves also agree that "ethics is what is morally right or wrong in social conduct, usually as determined by standards of professions, organisations and individuals" (p.90). Therefore, ethics can be understood as morally right or wrong conduct that is determined by a set of rules.

As for my definition of ethics, I believe it is a behavioural instinct by which a person uses to make right or wrong decisions. It can be a person's conscience, that small, still voice that speaks to a person's heart when faced with a moral or ethical dilemma. What made us Homo sapiens unique is this gift of conscience, that we may make good, ethical decisions to sustain our well-being. Ethics is not merely a set of rules of conduct or empty words but it exists in all of us and it all depends on the individual himself/herself whether to want to use it for good or bad.

With so many different interpretations on what ethics is all about, I am not surprised that Robinson & Garratt (2000) stated that "ethics is complicated because our morality is an odd mixture of received tradition and personal opinion" (p.5). This is because there are ethical principles that have been preset with a set of ethical codes and there are also ethical principles formed by the individual based on conscience or that 'gut feeling'. Vivian believes in the latter, stating that "ethics is an individual matter


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