Importance of ethics in Public Relations

Ethics is something which need not be taught, but can be acquired by just observing! It is the branch of philosophy that deals with values relating to human conduct, with respect to rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such action.

Truth is what Public Relations is all about, where honest and ethical actions can build a reputation. PR professionals should not compromise their ethics, it is who they are; it’s not faulty, not hype, no fake CSR data, but only truth. It determines the reputation of not only yourself, but also the business and corporation you work for.

The issue of human rights is important in the world today and the charter of the UN has affirmed its faith in these fundamental rights, which was adopted after the second world war as “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Later the code of ethics that was adopted by the International Public Relation Association (IPRA) is based on this fundamental human right.

Codes can only provide guidance. There is no licensing of practitioners, nor any punishment of segregation of code as it would be a breach of democratic right to freedom of occupation. With increasing education, the consumer and public have become aware of their rights, so any wrong act, ignorance of legal aspects on the part of a PR professional can cause legal troubles.

Public Relations has now become a vital function that affects management decisions and influences public opinion in every organization. Nonetheless before gaining universal status, Public Relations also passed through convulsions. A dishonest communication cannot be an aid to cementing a relationship. It is an indispensable part for any organization. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • It sends the right messages to the right place and the right people
  • Advance in telecommunication and transport
  • Provides the right of expression and freedom of information
  • Increase overall reputation of a brand or service, which offers brand credibility
  • Increase in sale, profit leads with PR
  • Right campaigns of PR increase awareness for a brand while maintaining a positive and consumer-resonant image
  • Government employing PR practice for staying in power, for development tasks etc.

“You can fool some people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

Abraham Lincoln

So, it is simply a matter of choosing between the right and wrong options in keeping with conscience. Anything that creates inconsistency brings about a feeling of dishonesty. So, PR with unethical practices can cause nonconformity too.

Companies who want to uplift themselves and their shareholders in the future, must care about the world as a whole. Scott Cutlip of US points out: “The basic requirement for a profession is adherence to a set of professional norms”, and refers to the various codes of professional standards for Public Relations practice.

The PR practitioners should care not only about investors and payback, but they must take into consideration all the stakeholders. Concentration only on enhancing profits can’t be an eventual goal of any organization in elevating itself.

People nowadays take a glimpse about what an organization stands for, along with its products and services. PR practitioners should try to conduct themselves professionally, with truths, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to the public. They should try to improve individual proficiency and advanced knowledge and expertise of the profession through continuing research and education. Two of the many different principles that improve ethics based on decisions are integrity and transparency. It includes values such as honesty, compassion, loyalty, openness, fair-mindedness, respect etc.

In order for any profession to change its reputation, it must practice honesty and transparency. These values not only increase the ethical practice in public relations, but also increase trust and visibility of the company and its members. In the book “Ethics in Public Relation”, Patricia J Parsons says that there are 5 ethical pillars to support ethical decision making:

  • 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

Ethical behavior is inherently required in Public Relations practice to become a trusted source of counsel. First class PR is always rooted in facts.

The Public Relations society of America laid hold of Code of Professional Standards for the practice of Public Relations on April 29, 1977. Articles of the code promote and maintain high standards of public service and ethical conduct among its members. It says that a member shall deal fairly with clients or employers, past and present with fellow practice and the general public.

Again, a member shall conduct his or her professional life by adhering to truth and accuracy, to generally accepted standards of good taste in accordance with the public interest. A member shall not intentionally communicate misleading information and should endeavor to avoid such action.

In the early days in India there were people who manifested as PR consultants but in reality, manipulated people, indulged in unethical practices to get favorable decisions from the government or other authorities. The important step in the development of professionalism in Public Relation in India began when it formally adopted the International Code of Ethics to distinguish bonafide PR practitioners from manipulators.

Lying and even telling half of the truth will get people mad if they find it out. So, one must be honest with everything he or she says as a PR professional. Being honest cultivates trust, credibility and authenticity. PR professionals should have the ability to let the public see exactly what is happening in the organization and not hide anything from them. If the public finds out that the service or organization is holding secrets and thinking of implementing different plans in contrast to what is stated, then persevering in trust becomes a bit difficult. Individuals as well as organizations who get it right will construct a sustaining future for themselves. A brand or service may lose its credibility and visibility on account of a bad PR. So, the first effort in every profession is to develop a set of standards to promote acceptability.

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Written By: Azmee Nasreen Rahman

Azmee Nasreen Rahman is a student of Public Relations at Dibrugarh University. She did her internship with Life’s Purple in January, 2023.

Life’s Purple is a Guwahati-based PR and Reputation Management consultancy established in 2013.


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