The public relations industry is relied upon to provide accurate, honest information in the times of a crisis or other newsworthy event.
When information is involved and reputations, money, and jobs are at stake, it can be easy to be misled. Many times, companies or executives are willing to bribe or “buy off” individuals in the field of public relations or journalism in order to put a positive spin on an otherwise negative or potentially damaging situation.
Because of the potential for misinformation and bribery, the Public Relations Society of America, or PRSA, has compiled a code of ethics that all those involved in the field of public relations are encouraged to take.
The code of ethics for public relations is different from the code of ethics that journalists follow.
Those involved in public relations are in a position to positively or negatively affect the public’s perception of a company or organization. Because of this influential position, there are a number of challenges that public relations personnel face. These include:
– Misleading or Incorrect Information: It is the responsibility of the public relations professional to provide accurate information to the public. However, at times it is easy to relay inaccurate or misleading information to the public, either on purpose or not.
– Influence of Executives: Executives trust the public relations professionals to help promote their company or organization and handle any crisis in the most favorable way possible. At times, it can be easy to influence executives or management in the way they operate their company.
– Product Promotion: At times, public relations professionals are hired by clients for the sole purpose of promoting a service or product that may be inferior in a number of ways; either it is poorly made or unsafe. PR professionals face the dilemma of whether it is ethical to push a product onto the public that is inferior.
– Environmental Concerns: Public relations professionals are often hired by companies that are in favor of destroying or taking over national parks for the purposes of their own gain, either in this country or overseas.
– Bribery and Influence: Some public relations professionals are offered “gifts” in the forms of money, trips, expensive dinners, or other such luxuries in order to win them over. PR professionals must decide whether or not these gifts are bribes.
The PSRA Code of Ethics
This code of ethics is helpful to public professionals in knowing what is and what is not ethical. By taking the code of ethics, professionals then become responsible for upholding them. These include:
– Preserving the integrity of the process of providing communication.
– Remaining honest and accurate in all communications. This includes refraining from withholding information or offering misleading information.
– Acting promptly to correct untrue communications the professional is responsible of relating.
– Making sure any gifts received are not ostentatious and are both legal and infrequent.
Maintaining a Personal Code and Ethics
Public relations professionals should consult with their supervisors or mentors if there is any question whether a particular gift, client, or behavior is ethical and in compliance with a code of ethics. The reputation of the client as well as the public relations professional is at stake, so it is vital that honesty and integrity be practiced at all times. In addition, those involved in public relations who are found to have practiced unethical behaviors face the chance of being held accountable, which could result in loss of job or a potential lawsuit.