Ethics, Culture and Public Relations

I’ve been perplexed for a long time about the interface between public relations and ethics. Most PR associations espouse codes of ethics, although they seem devillishly hard to police, leading some people to ask what the point is. After long reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is almost impossible for an international PR association to adopt a code that goes beyond vague platitudes. Applying ethics within an international context is extremely difficult because of cultural differences.

I know that I have just opened myself up to accusations of moral relativism, but bear with me while I develop my line of thinking.

Let’s start with the empirical research. After studying 28 countries over a decade, Fons Trompenaar identified a number of attributes that determine the values of various cultures. Let us be clear, this is not about the window dressing that many cultural guides talk about (who walks through doors first, how do you exchange business cards, etc.). It looks at our fundamental mental programming, which is extremely resistant to change, unlike specific behaviours. His cultural dimensions have profound implications for global businesses and public relations professionals.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a workshop on cultural issues and business communications that was organized by IABC France. The speaker was Marc Wright, Publisher of Simply-Communicate. It was the second time I’d seen Marc’s entertaining yet thought-provoking presentation, and this allowed me to reflect a bit more deeply on the implications of the content than I had the first time.

The first of Trompenaar’s dimensions looks at how much weight is put on rules and relationships, and how the closeness of relationships and  the context influence the extent to which rules are respected. The non-business example Marc gave was to imagine that you are a passenger in a friend’s car when, having exceeded the speed limit, he hits a pedestrian.  Do you lie to the police for your friend or not?

Questions from the audience were revealing: how much above the limit was he driving? How seriously injured was the pedestrian? Some people felt that they had to tell the truth, especially if the pedestrian was seriously injured. Others said that they would probably protect their friend. Others said that they would feign ignorance of the friend’s actual speed. When they question was rephrased so that it was the teenage daughter who was driving, many more people said they would lie. The point is that our rules are ideals, and our values influence how strictly we respect those rules under different conditions. This has huge implications for business ethics.

Someone from a universalist culture will argue that she can’t circumvent the rules just because someone is a friend. If the friend is from a particularist culture, he will rebut that she is uncaring because she won’t even take their relationship into account in her decision.

Another highly relevant cultural dimension is the level of individualism versus communitarism. In a culture where the community is highly valued, concepts of justice will be very different. To people from individualistic cultures, the sacrificing of an individual to “the greater good”  sounds like the top of a very slippery slope towards totalitarianism. But it makes lots of sense from an evolutionary perspective. It’s really the social translation of propagation of the species (family/tribe/clan/society).

Trompenaars also looked at the extent to which achievements are ascribed to individuals or groups. The business implications of this are clear if you take the example of intellectual property. Individualistic cultures place a high value on giving credit and rewards to individual creators, whereas other cultures will ascribe the achievement to a group. In the latter context, the knowledge belongs to society and should be freely used to achieve the most gain for everyone.

These are just some of the issues highlighted by Trompenaar, but they illustrate the complexity of ethical debates in global contexts. One of the things that strikes me with existing codes of ethics for PR is that our international associations have strong national roots. I am a member of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), which, for historical reasons, still has the bulk of its members in North America.  Membership in other regions is growing rapidly, but it will take a number of years before the balance shifts significantly. When I re-read IABC’s code of ethics in light of my reflections on culture, I realized that a lot of it is either tautological or contradictory. For instance, the principle that “IABC members engage in communication that is not only legal but also ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs.” First of all, as the text above indicates, I don’t think you can be ethical outside of a system of cultural  values and beliefs, so the definition of ethical changes. But what about when there is a conflict between “legal”  and “ethical”?

This week, the United States celebrated Martin Luther King Jr Day. Here is a man who, inspired by Gandhi’s actions in India, used civil disobedience to fight unjust laws. From where we stand today, we can say that what he did was ethical. We can also say the same for the actions taken to end Apartheid in South Africa. But you could play the Devil’s Advocate and argue that King incited people to engage in illegal acts, and therefore his demonstrations were PR acts that flew in the face of this code of ethics.

The other thing that I find troublesome in the IABC code is the statement “that ethics, the criteria for determining what is right and wrong, can be agreed upon by members of an organization”.  Members of any such association are self-selecting. They band together because they share some beliefs, therefore I think that this statement is true with regard to activities inside the association. However, when you are talking about a professional society with practitioners across the globe, I am not so sure about the possibility of reaching agreement on these issues with regard to our work outside the confines of the association.

In fields such as medecine, where there is an empirical body of knowledge to apply, it is easier, but not always possible. That is why the debate rages about whether euthanasia is acceptable and whether it violates medical ethics. There is no absolute answer to such questions. With regard to public relations, almost all of our activities are subject to such judgment calls because our activities are less empirical than performing surgery or prescribing medication.

So rather than developing or refining codes of ethics, I think that PR practitioners’ professional societies could offer a lot more value if they provided the training and resources to help communicators make the necessary ethical evaluations in a wide range of settings. Demonstrated expertise through professional development (as opposed to less tangible lessons learned from hard experience) would give us another strong argument for why our function is central to the strategic thinking inside our organizations.

Please follow our blog:

22 Replies to “Ethics, Culture and Public Relations

  1. I have just found this interesting forum and got really caught up by this topic Kristen posted and by the discussion that followed suit.
    In my opinion, professional associations aim at representing the profession as a whole, independently of the personal and private interests of its members. Therefore, they need to organize themselves and express a code of conduct that’s not limiting or narrow minded but comprehensive enough so that it may be applicable to members and non members of the professional field.
    We may have our own personal opinions on certain aspects included in the code of conduct of the professional organization we are members of, but _taking it as a whole_ we have to feel represented by it and consider it a paramount or benchmark to which to compare.

  2. Lei,

    If you read the About the Authors section, you’ll find out that yes, we are practitioners from different countries. Since our articles are based on things in current events that inspire us, I suggest that you search through the archives to see if any of the old articles contain anything that might help with your report.

  3. are you guys pr practitioners??
    i am to report about pr in social,cultural, and health situations.. could you like post here the said topic.. thanks a bunch!!

  4. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am finding this conversation really interesting.

    As a reference for the rest of my comment, here are the standards in the Global Alliance’s Protocol (www.globalpr.org/knowledge/ethics/protocol.asp):

    “Advocacy
    We will serve our client and employer interests by acting as responsible advocates and by providing a voice in the market place of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

    Honesty
    We will adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of clients and employers.

    Integrity
    We will conduct our business with integrity and observe the principles and spirit of the Code in such a way that our own personal reputation and that of our employer and the public relations profession in general is protected.

    Expertise
    We will encourage members to acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience to build understanding and client/employer credibility. Furthermore we will actively promote and advance the profession through continued professional development, research, and education.

    Loyalty
    We will insist that members are faithful to those they represent, while honoring their obligations to serve the interests of society and support the right of free expression.”

    I’m thinking that if anyone actually needs to teach me these things, I am not the kind of person likely to obey the protocol in any case. In fact, I am probably already in violation of the expertise clause just by practising, but I am clearly not deterred by its existence.

    Where such codes might be useful is in managing the reputation of the profession. That is, any good PR person worth their title already respects these, but the only things people hear about PR are all the bad cases.

    Codes are probably also very helpful in countries where public relations is a fairly young introduction, because they can help establish minimum requirements in such countries. But the interpretation of what those principles mean may be very different.

    But I do think beyond such very basic principles, that the individual judgments necessary in the real world must take into account the context in order to be relevant.

    Let’s take an example from one of the world’s best known codes of ethics: the 10 Commandments. “Thou shall not kill” sounds pretty universal. But what about when it’s self-defense? What about if your child’s life is threatened? Many people would see these latter two cases as much more ambiguous. And few people would probably blink if it were an animal that you are going to eat.

    I think that one of the challenges that we have in this discussion is that the bulk of PR practitioners in the world never have an in-depth experience of other cultures, and it is very hard to imagine a system that is not universal until you’ve lived in at least two. Then you run into an existential dilemma: it is impossible for both systems to be universal, so if they are both right, then they can’t be universal.

    I also think it is very easy to underestimate how ingrained our ethical values are. I have lived in Europe for 13.5 years (6.5 in Belgium and 7 in France), and I still regularly run into situations where my American assumptions are called into question.

    This weekend I was reading the latest installment in one of my favourite fiction series about Thursday Next, who among other jobs works as an agent for Jurisfiction, the agency that polices INSIDE books. In this particular book, she is imprisoned in a moral dilemma, and is confronted with one situation after another where there is no right answer, and the only way to win is not to play. Sometimes the “right” answer is the “least bad”. But what defines “least bad” may be very context or culture specific. During the whole Monica Lewinsky episode, I got very tired explaining to Europeans that it had nothing to do with what they perceive as the Puritan side of America and everything to do with perjury. “Perjury,” I asserted, “is a very serious affair in America.” “But,” replied a French colleague, “it was just a litle lie”.

  5. Just a quick additional comment in response to JG’s posting.

    As I hinted at in an earlier posting, making “the right” ethical decision under challenging conditions often comes down to character and circumstances/context/relationships.

    I agree with JG that the idea that PR practitioners have a claim to better ethical pedigree is somewhat offensive. Ethics is a good quality to have, but hardly something that we all necessarily bring to the job.

    While PR Practitioners can and should provide a reality check on questionable practices and policies, their ability to do so is totally dependant on who they are as individuals and the corporate culture in which they work. An unenforceable code of ethics is only as good as the people and the organization in which they work.

  6. As much as I fear to disagree with JG:

    Culture and corporate culture obviously play a very important role in determining what is, and is not, acceptable. For example, in many cultures (including in the West), both giving and receiving bribes are part of doing business. What is a PR practitioner to do when working under such a culture?

    Re: Governance and Ethics (from articles I wrote years ago which are still relevant…)

    “SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) is about compliance, but good governance isn’t just about compliance,” says Janis Riven, president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Canada (ICSA)and lecturer at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business. “There are limits to the compliance approach.”

    “Corporate governance is a hot topic, but we are overly optimistic about what corporate governance can do,” says Wharton legal studies professor Thomas Donaldson. “Simply rearranging the chairs at the higher echelons of a company will not prevent the types of fraud that have occurred over the past several years.”

    In his testimony before the U.S. Senate during the Sarbanes-Oxley hearings, Donaldson reminded lawmakers that in all of the recent major corporate scandals, the companies in question had fairly elaborate corporate compliance programs in place.

    “We love to pin ethics to governance,” says Riven. “We have to be very careful of that because ethics is a very mushy area, and governance shouldn’t be mushy.”

    Re: culture and ethical practices (from the same series of articles)

    When it comes to corporate governance, no single country has a monopoly on best practices, said Deloitte Global CEO William G. Parrett. While that may be true, governance in some of the markets that are attracting capital are far from examples of best practices.

    Japan’s corporate culture and informal approach to governance is different on so many levels from Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. Nevertheless, in December 2004, the Tokyo Stock Exchange introduced a Charter of Corporate Behaviour.

    Even though the document reads as more of a wish list than a firm set of rules or even guidelines, the delisting of scandal tainted Seibu Railway was a rare but promising turn of events. Corporate scandal and poor corporate governance plagues China’s market, but it hasn’t deterred hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investments from flowing into the economy.

  7. At the peer-to-peer round table session on corporate governance, the participants were pretty much in agreement that “principles-based” corporate governance (board of directors and operations) was the most effective one, as opposed to a rules-based (i.e., tick-box) approach. They also concurred that a national regulatory body was highly unlikely to happen in this lifetime in Canada, but felt that enforcement of existing laws and norms was necessary, including publication of the names of offending companies, as well as easy access to information on their exact infractions.

    In my books much of what constitutes ethical behaviour is pretty universal; I’m less convinced that the majority of behaviour needs be viewed through a cultural lens. (Think of the Code of Athens.)

    Something I’ve always found vaguely offensive is the view held by many communications and public relations practitioners that somehow they are a more evolved “ethical” race in their employment function than their counterparts in finance or law, administration or HR, etc. I think that is bunk. Our ethical framework is formed by our upbringing (agreed, some of that is cultural), schooled knowledge and training, plus real-world experience and reflection. It has very little to do with the career choices we made, *except* for the fact that in these roles we are more vulnerable if a corporation’s unethical behaviour is determined.

  8. Kristen,

    Would that involve developing a “case law” approach for PR ethics then, with more focus on specific examples? Or does it imply that ethics can only be applied situationally according to all the local ethical dimensions?

  9. Greg,

    Your parallel with lawyers raises the jurisdiction issue again. Lawyers are admitted to the bar within a specific legal system. In the United States, there is not even a single national qualification, without talking about differences from one country to another. So-called “international law” applies to states, not individuals (and we won’t even go into how well it is respected!)

    Speaking at the IABC Europe and Middle East’s EuroComm conference earlier this week in Barcelona, Josep Maria Esquirol, Lecturer on Philosophy at the University of Barcelona, gave an interesting speech on ethical communications.

    He said: “So, we should ask ourselves what kind of rule, value or criterium we must apply to make communication ethically correct. Often we try to determine those limits which shouldn’t be exceeded, those actions that we shouldn’t resort to when willing to act ethically (as, for example, not lying or violating human rights).
    Yet…what gives sense to communication, what makes communication valuable…?”

    He then went on to list ten points:
    1. Sharing
    2. Taking Action
    3. Sincerity
    4. Respect
    5. Communicating appropriately what is appropriate
    6. Using plain language
    7. Taking the necessary time
    8. Humility
    9. Conversing, where appropriate
    10. Intelligence

    I was particularly struck by some of his remarks under humility:
    “The best judge is not the one who stays within the abstract generality of the law, but the one who can come to grips with the specificity of each particular case heard. Effective application of the law depends on this capacity to move closer to the concrete…Moving closer to things, then, sometimes means “coming down‟. What can be seen from below is generally just the opposite of what is seen from above: everything grows larger and we can better appreciate the details and singularity of each thing.”

  10. PR bodies’ rules of ethics will always count for zip if members of that body are not legally bound, as are lawyers. In Australia the PRIA only has 3000 members from an estimated 11 to 14,000 people who practice PR, according to government Census data. Get past that hurdle, then try practising ethically in some SE Asian countries (no names for fear of offending). Just take a wad of cash and your in the PR business.

  11. Another great PR Conversations discussion that I will recommend to students. We devote a lot of time to emphasising ethical practice to those embarking on a profesion in PR and they reflect in assignments regularly on ethical issues. However, from feedback, students feel that the emphasis on ethical practice does not extend to experiences in the “real world”.

    Although they are familiar with ethical models and even decision making tools, those students entering the world of PR find themselves confronted with ethical issues and decisions where they do not have authority to implement the lessons studied at University.

    The challenge therefore is to ensure that practitioners are able to speak up about ethical issues and feel confident in presenting arguments to colleagues and clients in this regard.

    When you are faced with the real issue of “do as I say or lose your job”, how many young (or even experienced) practitioners are able to stand on their principles. Citing the code of bodies where membership is voluntary isn’t going to really be helpful.

    As much as I would like to support voluntary ethical behaviour, much as corporate social responsibility, I feel external pressure is key. Those working in the public sector for example, tell me that what really helps them counter pressure to undertake activities with which they feel uncomfortable is being able to cite legislation.

    Personal or professional codes only go so far – being able to stand your ground is easier if there are requires legal or social-cultural reasons backing up your position.

    Otherwise, we will continue to see cognitive dissonance used to excuse acting in ways that some might find unethical.

  12. Kristen,

    The approach that the GA took to arrive at a global code of ethics- see http://www.globalpr.org/knowledge/ethics/protocol.asp
    was to determine-after a thorough anlaysis of dozens of codes of ethics for PR- what were the common denominators and from there we wrote what can best be described as a minimum global standard that we felt all cultures(associations) whitin the GA could pledge to adopt. This was described in the application of the protocol as the generic part of the global code. We also stipulated that associations could very well add any specific statements that woudl add to this minimum code of ethics. Furthermore we asked all GA associations to ratify the adoption of this global code by either adopting the very language we prescribed as the minimum portion of their own codes OR to certify by a signed declaration to the GA that the language in their existing code met or exceeded the minimum standard set. At the time of adoption in 2003, the GA had unanimous support to proceed on that basis. All existing GA memebers had until 2006 to ratify the adoption of the code or change theirs to the new one. Also any new member to the GA had to agree as a condition to membership to ratify the protocol within a year of entry.
    Joao Duarte could tell us how many of the GA’s fifty-or-so national associations who are members of the GA have ratified the protocol at this date. I believe it is more than 30.
    To encourage those who have not yet taken the necessary action, the GA board has stipulated that ratifying the protocol is a condition to maintain a ‘member in good standing’ status at the GA AGM- hence no voting rights if you have not ratified the protocol.
    Posters are quite right that education is the way to go which is why we are offering guidance on the principles to be applied to any ethical dilemna on the GA web site.
    We are also quite interested in the German model and are observing how it is being implemented. The secret to their sucesss appears to be that it is a broad based organisation that is not the ‘owner’ of the membership’. Sanctions or public denounciations by this organisation is therefore once-removed from the German PR association.

  13. Thank you all for your very interesting comments. Let me add one thing which got lost in my writing. My last paragraph was meant to talk about the role of international associations. The example of the German code goes back to my point about associations having their roots in a specific national culture. I think we could all agree that Germany is a pretty rules-based culture, so that fits well with my premise. CIPR also has a strong national base for its activities. You could argue that people from outside the UK who join CIPR are self-selected to be in agreement with that code. But are you saying, Toni, that all ethical values are universal? This sort of black/white view of the world seems simplistic to me. I am not arguing that ethics are not desirable. But a universally applicable code seems troublesome to me beyond a certain narrow range of points (i.e. declaring vested interests, etc), and I definitely think that it is troublesome when you start including points that could be contradictory (as regards the point I made about what is just and what is legal, which do not always agree).

    To take a metaphor from other types of human relations, is honesty really truly always the best policy? Even when it hurts people? I agree that organisations’ PR should not try to hide crucial information, but aren’t there ever justifiable reasons to tell white lies? And isn’t storytelling about choosing certain points to out in the spotlight?

    Coming back to Eric’s headline, what if it were “Treacherous ‘friend’ not to be trusted”? What would that do for your reputation?

    I am not by any means saying that we should all engage in unethical behaviour. I am just not sure that it is as easy to define ethical and unethical as some people would have us believe, at least not in a multicultural context. And therefore, I think it comes down more to judgment than a series of paragraphs that reflect the thinking of a limited number of people in an editorial committee.

  14. As codes of ethics are one of the “four pillars of professionalism,” of course I appreciate this topic, Kristen.

    In case you weren’t aware, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management has a section devoted to Ethical PR, including ethical issues, case studies, an “Ask the experts” service, an Excel spreadsheet comparison of several PR ethics codes and GA ethics protocols. (I’ve just downloaded the German Council for Public Relations one, as I’ve been very curious to find out how our German colleagues have instituted an “enforceable and enforced” code.) Perhaps João Duarte, Jean Valin or Toni would care to expand on either the GA’s work or that of the GCPR.

  15. Jean,

    Yes, that’s what I mean by voluntary. Some still retain the power to remove membership (as PRSA did for many years), but my research in this area leads me to believe it is rarely, if ever, used. In the extremely rare instances in which it is, litigation follows, often resulting in the professional association being sued (ergo PRSA’s decision to revert to a voluntary code).

    Does this mean that the 10% who belong to associations are uber-ethical? Does it mean that PR practitioners never commit censurable offenses or infractions against codes of ethics? Does it mean that codes are “de facto” unenforceable? Or does it mean that ethics is, and will always be, a professional’s personal responsibility (instead of a profession’s responsibility)?

    These questions need to be examined more closely. And I think Kristen has done a wonderful job of pointing us down this path.

  16. Eric,

    With respect to whether CIPR and PRSA or CPRS etc have the same ‘power’ or not, they do and that is that is to expel the member who has been shown to offend the code.
    That, as you can imagine, is easier said than done. I know that as part of its chartered status CIPR has an obligation to ‘show teeth’ and take action, but I am not sure what form this takes. I do know that once a matter like this becomes public, litigation has been known to follow.
    So if that is what you mean by voluntary, we are all in the same boat.
    CPRS goes one step further. Not only do you have to agree to abide by the code upon acceptance to membership but you must renew this pledge as you renew your dues every year. I think other associations have similar processes to ensure ethics is addressed.
    I agree with other posters that education and trainign is the -preferable way to go. The GA in fact has an ‘ask the expert service’ on its web site- which has case studies and the ability to reach out to experts with your own ethical dilemna if you don’t recognize anything close to your situation in the examples. See link: http://www.globalpr.org/knowledge/ethics/askexperts.asp

    Toni is right however that all of this affects only the 10% or so who are members of associations.

  17. Kirsten,

    What a wonderful article. You certainly gave it a lot of thought.

    Currently, codes of ethics for associations of public relations practitioners and business communicators are all voluntary, with the one exception being the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) tried for nearly 60 years to uphold an enforceable code of professional standards, but gave up a few years ago and converted to a voluntary code. As a result, without an enforceable code of standards or ethics, public relations will never become a “profession” in the truest sense of the word.

    When it comes to the CIPR, “the proof,” as my dear old grandmother used to say, “will be in the baking.” Until someone is censured, the code will be unenforced (and potentially unenforceable). In other words, it will not need to grow teeth until it has to bite.

    But the bigger issue is how, as communication and public relations professionals, can we help our organizations navigate through the minefields of conflicting values around the globe and still operate in a sustainable fashion? We need to discipline ourselves as professionals (which we can be without the cocoon of a “profession” around us) to facilitate and implement values-based decision-making.

    This means identifying all options (as in the case you cited above) and applying values based decision-making tools to each option, much in the same way finance professionals use net present value, internal rate of return, discounted payback and straight-line payback to evaluate alternatives on the basis of their enhancement to shareholder value.

    In your example, one tool might be very simple. How would you feel if the following headline appeared in tomorrow’s newspaper: “Friend lied about accident to police”?

    If you’re comfortable with this headline, lying is an option. If you’re not, perhaps another course of action would be best.

  18. Thanks, Kristen. I enjoyed reading your analysis.

    In my humble opinion, making “the right” ethical decision under challenging conditions often comes down to character and circumstances/context/relationships.

    “I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex….Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”

    Sorry, but this is one of my favourite movie lines and, I think, also very appropriate to discussions about ethics. The character who speaks this line happens to be an ethically-challenged pop magazine writer, but truer words have rarely been spoken.

    The truth is that most of us know the difference between right and wrong. We usually know what the “right” or “ethical” decision is…but we can also learn how to rationalize with greater and greater ease as we move through our careers–we can learn how to convince ourselves that questionable decisions we make are ethically okay.

    Codes of ethics are nice, in theory, whether they’re written by IABC or Acme Corporation. I think the reality is that if codes are not enforced or enforcable, making hard decisions usually boil down to the character of the decision-making individuals or organizations, and/or circumstances/context/relationships.

  19. Kristen,

    Although you extensively cite a true personal friend as well as business associate (Fons Trompenars), to whom I am deeply devoted….with all due respect and sympathy, I entirely disagree with your post.

    1.
    if professional associations, as we have often discussed also on this blog, represent only their members, then they are the equivalent of any other ‘club’. They are therefore entitled to adopt rules of behaviour which apply only to those members.

    2.
    if professional associations, to the contrary, aspire to represent the profession in avgiven territory or specific practice, then they must organize themselves to ensure that the rules of behaviour they decide to adopt apply also to non members who operate in the same professional field.

    As many (most? all?) professional associations file themselves in the second group, then they need to acquire the legitimacy to enforce the rules of behaviour they have adopted and ensure their ‘license to operate’.

    3.
    If I understand correctly, you cite Trompenaars and say that cultures are so diverse that one cannot apply (at least from an ethical perspective, I presume) that ‘generic principles and specific applications’ paradigm which is at the very core of the new global public relations framework to which I have been devoting many years of work, in cooperation with thinkers, scholars and professionals with much more relevant credentials than mine. Work which stems from the 1984-2004 excellence study by Larissa and Jim Grunig which was, as you certainly know, financed by IABC.

    So you understand why I am so reactive…

    4.
    Fons’ excellent work on organizational cultures is an outgrowth and further and mor relevant specification of Fonstedte’s socio-cultural variables, which relates only to one (the socio-cultural system) of the six variables of a given territory, which applies to the ‘specific principles’ part of that paradigm, and which converge to define the public relations infrastructure of a given territory (not necessarily nation) or a given organization.
    The other five being:
    °institutional and legal system
    °political system
    °economic system
    °civil society system
    °media system

    One cannot simply relate professional behaviour only to socio-cultural issues: this would undoubtedly imply what you yourself termed as ethical relativism in its negative sense.

    5.
    The ‘generic principles’ part of the new framework also implies that public relations is based on a solid body of knowledge and that ethical behaviour is one of its fundamental pillars.

    6.
    In turn, professional ethics (the one which concerns professional activity and therefore is the appropriate field for professional associations to worry about) is but one of the three ethical levels in which a public relator needs to consider, the other two being personal ethics and organizational ethics (the organization the public relator works with or for..of course).

    7.
    No profession can stand up on its feet if it does not have generally accepted standards of behaviour, and the world today is much more complex than its, however important, socio cultural values, as I am sure Fons aould fully agree.

    8.
    I say all this because I very much hope that, following on the excellent example of the German Council of PR, all Cerp members as well as other associations, will want to actively adopt that model which proves in actual practice that the Council can enforce its professional behavioural codes to non members, as well as organizations as such, by involving other associations and by making investigations and deliberations public.

    9.
    This is happening right now, day after day in Germany (27 cases discussed in the last 2 years, 21 concluded with a public reprimenda and no libel suits…to date…may threats but no follow through as Councile members are adequately insured against this possibiity).
    This german case is in radical contrast to the highly disappointing decision a few years ago by the world’s largest association (the public relations society in the usa) to interrupt enforcement attempts for fear of libel suits….

    10.
    I thank you for having raised this issue and I very much hope others will want to join us in this discussion….

Comments are closed.