In this article, as stated before, I am going to cover some practical advice on how someone can take ethical decisions as a PR practitioner.
Toolbox for taking ethical decisions
In order to be sure that one takes ethical decisions some models were developed. But because there are many, it will be taken into consideration only four of them which are suitable for any PR practitioners who want to take ethical decisions.
Codes of Conduct
There are so many codes of conduct: made by Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), European Public Relations Confederation (CERP), International Public Relations Association (IPRA), Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) (Morris & Goldsworthy, 2012). Many practitioners put a lot of emphasis on Codes of Conduct because of the shallow philosophy in the field (Fawkes, 2010). However, Parkinson (2001, cited in Fawkes, 2010) found that “professional codes were designed more to improve the reputation of the profession than to control its standards of behaviour and analysis of these codes”. This is why PR practitioners are advised to choose a personal and suitable model for their situations, mostly because the codes of conduct will not provide enough criteria to analyse if a decision is ethical or not.
Four habits of ethical communication
Robin and Yoder (1985 cited in Simmons & Walsh, 2010) articulate four habits of ethical communication in order to help a communicator to make ethical decisions. These four habits are:
- the habit of search requires the communicator to explore the complexity of issues;
- the habit of justice requires the open presentation of information with concern for distortion’;
- the habit of preferring public over private motivations requires the sharing of sources and disclosure of ‘biases that may influence positions’;
- the habit of respect for dissent (Rubin and Yoder, 1985 cited in Simmons and Walsh, 2010, p.15).
Model for ethically desirable advocacy in PR
Advocacy means that one has to represent publicly an individual, organisation or idea by using persuasion towards targeted audiences and it is considered at the core of public relations practice (Edgett, 2002). This is one of the reasons for existing ethics in PR. Because in this way ethics can help PR practitioners to be honest and work with dignity. Edgett (2002) argued that the model for ethically desirable advocacy in public relations should be based on these ten criteria for ethically desirable advocacy:
- Reversibility: PR practitioners have to take only the action which would be willing to be on the receiving end. The receiver must have sufficient information to allow an informed choice.
- Veracity: PR practitioner has to tell the truth and be truthful and trustworthy.
- Confidentiality: PR practitioner should maintain confidentiality of the company unless the organisation does illegal actions or damaging to others
- Sensitivity: balancing the social responsibility with the client priority
- Evaluation: an objective evaluation about the issue-client-organisation
- Priority: the client priority – PR practitioners owes the client loyalty (or priority) when participating in public discourse
- Validity: PR arguments should be based on sound reasoning.
- Visibility: the source has to be mentioned
- Respect: respect the other letting them the chance to have all the information before making a decision (this is an addition to reversibility)
- Consent: Communication can be carried out only if all parties consent
The Pillars of Ethics
These pillars of ethics were proposed by Parsons (2008, p. 20) and encapsulate all the above model in five easy and simple criteria: “Veracity (to tell the truth), Non-maleficence (to do no harm), Beneficence (to do good), Confidentiality (to respect privacy), Fairness (to be fair and socially responsible)”.
No matter what model or approach a PR professional take into consideration, it is important to understand their ethical role in the organisation and try to evaluate their work and decisions if are ethical or not by one of these approaches. If they still have a problem in choosing something they can test themselves by asking this question: “Would you be comfortable with this decision if it were spread across the front page of your leading national newspaper and your local media headlines tomorrow morning?” (Parsons, 2008, p. 142).
I hope this toolbox for taking ethical decisions will help you when you do not know what ethical decisions means or you do not know how you can make sure that you took the ethical decision.