Ethics and Public Relations

Topics: Ethics, Public relations, Morality Pages: 8 (2863 words) Published: October 6, 2006
PR 350: International Public Relations

Academic Essay

Table of Contents

2.Definition of Ethics5
3.Should ethical behaviour differ from country to country?8 4.How can public relations practitioners an international
company's ethical behaviour?11

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.

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...

References: Baskin, O., Aronoff, C. & Lattimore, D. (1997). Public relations: the profession and the practice. (4th ed.). Chicago: Brown & Benchmark.
Guth, D. & Marsh, C. (2000). Case study 6.1: Inside the Body shop. In D. Guth & C. Marsh, Public relations: a value driven approach. (pp.184-186). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Harrison, K. (2001). Crisis communication response to salmonella outbreak. In K. Harrison, Strategic public relations – a practical guide to success. (pp.428-430). Western Australia: Vineyard Publishing Pty. Ltd.
Holt, A. (2002). Public relations ethics. Retrieved, October 28, 2003, from
Public Relations Society of America. Member code of ethics 2000. [Online]. (2000). Retrieved, October 28, 2003 from
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Robinson, D. & Garratt, C. (2000). Introducing: ethics. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin.
Soanes, C. (Ed.). (2002). Compact Oxford English dictionary. UK: Oxford University Press.
Vivian, J
Institute of Public Relations Malaysia. Code of conduct. [Online]. (n.d.) Retrieved, October 28, 2003 from
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