PR Ethics

In public relations, practitioners face ethical dilemmas everyday when determining what messages they will broadcast to the public. “What are the implications of this campaign? Am I hiding anything? Could this campaign be perceived negatively?” These questions, and questions like them, are constantly being evaluated by communicators—especially when dealing with crises or pressing public information.

Some have argued that in public relations, truly ethical behaviour is more expensive than its unethical counterpart. This is the reason that an ethical dilemma exists in this industry.  All public relations organizations deal with the dirty laundry of their wealthy clients. In fact, they were contracted to “wash” that laundry. Of course, individual practitioners publically adhere to codes of ethics, but what happens behind closed doors?

This can be very unnerving for individual practitioners. Every day, they personally evaluate whether products actually do what they claim to, and, in the case that they don’t, whether they are willing to lie to promote their uncertain outcomes. Take political communications for example: in what is  probably the most publicized system of misinformation, is it ethical for practitioners to devalue another’s brand to further their own brand? Is issuing press releases to negotiate a negative public image ethical? In sum, how do practitioners ethically “fake it until they make it”?

Although, in spirit, we are obligated to resign from positions that promote unethical communications, we also need to eat, to pay our bills, and to earn a decent living. But, is that the cost of a prestigious campaign? That notion, in itself, is inherently counterproductive and ironic. The ethical dilemma is able to honestly say that ethics is a tangible organ of public relations, rather than just a false idol.


–Jamal Nath

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