Public Relations (PR) is what I would define as ‘information flow management’, between an individual or an organisation and the public. PR attracts audience’s attention using topics of public interest and aiming to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, customers, suppliers, employees, governments, NGOs and other stakeholders in order to maintain a certain reputation about an individual/company.
As PR is based on public communication, it has always had special ethical responsibilities and challenges. This is due to the incredible potential they have for abusing their positions. The power to influence society means that PR holds enormous responsibility to be ethical. But what does being ethical mean?
Ethical principles have been studied since the period of the Ancient Greece with Plato and Aristotle developing the concept of the ’Golden Man’; when the classical philosophy collided with messianic monotheism the idea of ethics moved towards a deontological approach. The decision of right and wrong is decided on a universal basis, the Bible’s Golden Rule, “Do onto others as you would have them to unto you”. A more modern deontological approach is presented by Kant and the ‘Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals’ based on the role of cause and effect. Another approach to ethics, presented by English philosophers John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, is utilitarianism – ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’. In the 20th century attention has been focused also on other theories such as: Subjectivism, Contractarianism, Existentialism, Cultural Relativism.
As we can see, there are a lot of different beliefs of what ethics are and how an ethical person should behave. A lot of people would simply argue that somebody who is ethical would always tell the truth. But how can we define which one is the truth? Furthermore, the ‘truth’, ‘media’ and ‘public relations’ are not three words that are likely to see put side by side very often but as Newsom (2010) affirms: “The extent and veracity of this relationship depend very much on the point from which you view the unholy trinity”.
Ethics are about values and personal, organisational and social standards. However, contemporary society it has grown more diverse along a number of factors, including culture, ethnicity, economy and class. Due to this diversity, ethical issues arise from conflict between experiences, beliefs, expectations and values. The evaluation of what constitutes ethical practice is more and more difficult because different people have different philosophies.
This blog will explore matters of public interest, how ethics have been used in different case studies and what was the influence of Public Relation in the discussed issue.
More information about ethics and Public Relations in:
COOMBS, W. T. and S. J. HOLLADAY, 2007. It’s not just PR. Public relations in society. UK : Blackwell Publishing
NEWSOM, D., J. V. TURK and D. KRUCKEBERG, 2010. This is PR. The realities of public relations. 10th ed. USA : Wadsworth Cengage Learning.