Thursday, 25 February 2010

Is ethics determined by sector?

A recent survey shows that 73% of respondents say that practitioners lie in course of their work. Only 38% say that PR is fundamentally honest, 27% disagree with this while there is 35% that are not sure. What is disheartening, is that this survey was conducted among PR practitioners.

There may be defining moments when the ethics of the profession have been questioned, but also true that the majority practice with honesty and try to be fair to both the organization they represent and to their 'external' audiences. Making consistent ethical decisions where cultures and values clash or vary is difficult. Where do you draw the line in terms of being loyal to your employer at the same time living with conscience?

To promote or not to promote?

PR Week featured an article that sought to collect views from different PR professions on how they felt about promoting some products. The tobacco industry has faced the most critism. How do you promote tobacco when the highly risky health issues are a reality? Well, the sector may well be legally regulated and allowed to sell, they employ thousands of people and contribute to the various economies. But is it worth the lives lost? The debate about how the only way to be ethical is to work in charity or voluntary sector, makes one wonder if the ability to be ethical lies within the type of sector one works for. Working in charity may help lower the chances of being unethical because of the nature of work involved. Established for the benefit of social good, we may assume that there is no reason to be unethical. But again, it also depends on the practitioners and what we define as right and wrong and on whose interest we are serving.

The ethical guidelines set by CIPR , PRSA, PRSK and other professional bodies all over seem to be experiencing problems about enforcement. The fact that there is the law and sometimes what is law may not necessarily be ethical doesn't help matters much. The onus is left to the practitioner to decide about what is considered ethical as per the company policy and the codes of conduct outlined by the professional bodies albeit their minimal clarity.

Am sure most practitioners are faced with the dilemma of defining what is ethical or morally upright given different scenarios and have to make decisions about what is best for the larger majority. It is arguable that utilitarianism is the most common approach to ethical decision making in business, because it takes into account the expected outcome when deciding on what is the right thing to do. However, we cannot always accurately predict future consequences (Cutlip et al. p.120)

Cutlip, S., et al. (2006), Effective Public Relations (9th ed.), New Jersey, Prentice Hall

PRWeek(2010), Professional ethics: should you promote these products? [Accessed 25/02/10]

PRWeek(2010), PR professionals believe 'spin' is entrenched in industry, survey shows. [accessed 25/02/2010]

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