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Understanding of Public Relations Assessment 1

Student Name: Lin Zhu Student Number: 14258244 Module Code: 2CPR7H3 Tutor: Pam Williams & Michaela O’Brien Word Count: 1902 Submit Date: 13-November-2013


According to Shannon A. Bowen (2007), the code of conduct is a series of statements of principles agreed to by professional organizations that are intended to guide members in moral decision-making. Due to the morality are a crucial part of the organizational culture and the basis of values and ideals. Meanwhile, morality is a status symbol of an organization, representing the organization's reputation and public status (L’Etang, 2009). Therefore, those kinds of definition are familiar and fundamental to some industry such as Business & Finance, Medical and Social Sciences. However, the Public Relation industry, for a long time has been considered critically as the symbol of unethical or perceived lack of those kinds of conduct, built upon manipulation, persuasion, spin and even espionage (Bowen, 2007). The critical debating of the codes of conducts never stops to arouse critics’ attention among the industry. This essay will critically evaluate the definitions of the codes of conduct and whether those codes are effective in the PR industry. Codes implemented by The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and The China International Public Relations Association (CIPRA) will be discussed, providing different purpose and angles of those conducts, followed by an explanation and debate on who and how to obey those codes. Furthermore, some empirical examples will be used from the two organizations thus highlighting the effectiveness of codes of conduct in PR industry.   Professional public relations bodies internationally have established ethics codes in an attempt to regulate members’ ethical behaviour. One of the essential tasks of PR people is to provide reliable and accurate information trusted by their clients or gernal public. Those kinds of codes can help public relation people to make difficult decisions in their professional lives; improve PR’s reputation by showing it is socially responsible and ethical. For instance, in spite of the varied findings on codes is effectiveness among the industry; Loe et al. (2000) asserted codes do affect the moral and ethical issues of cognitive behavioral level of members. Furthermore, “other studies (Fisher, 2001; Somers, 2001; Trevino & Weaver, 2003; Chonko et al., 2003; Schwartz, 2001; Adam & Rachman-Moore, 2004; O’Dwyer & Madden, 2006; Vitell & Encarnacion, 2006) both provided the evidence of code effectiveness in terms of playing a role in impacting member behaviour and perceiving right ethical actions”. A study by Stevens (2008) pointed out that those codes might be used as a tool to mold the behavior of organizational behavior and ethical decision-making guidance effectively when they are combining the organizational culture and social environment together (cited in Obalola, 2011). Meanwhile, a further survey stated by the European Communication Monitor in 2012 shows that 93.2% professional PR people hold the view about this industry do need a ethical code to regularize their behavior. Moreover, one of the signs of being a profession is having clear stands of practices. Attempting to promote ethics in this area is reflected in the practice of public relations code of professional standards. For instance, in the United States, the code of conduct is that of the Public Relations Society of America. Its first code of


professional standard was adopted in 1954 and revised in 1959, 1963, 1977, 1983, 1988 and 2000 (Cutlip, Center and Broom, 2006). In the last section of PRSA’s codes of ethics, has clearly stated that “enhancing the Profession” for the purpose of “strengthening the public’s trust”. These codes try to provide a practical and professional nature guide to the practitioners in agency. Morality is an invisible wall; although it has not strong binding as law, it can still reflect its power when violate it. More specifically, the PR organisations wish to improve their crisis management is a powerful factor behind those codes. Mostly organisations generally agree that code of conduct helps them in managing their risks, their reputations, and their relations with clients and public.

However, even though the existing code of conduct in PR industry has already helped PR people overcome their risks and improve their career reputation due to its updated development during these years, some experts and ethicists still point out that these codes are unenforceable to obey. Despite agreement with the statement by PRSA, Michael Parkinson (2008) claimed that the code of PRSA is unenforceable; there are simply no means of formal enforcement for the PRSA Code of Ethics. Wright (2003) once added that without punitive measures, code enforcement falls upon the shoulders of individual practitioners who operate using ethical self-standards. In China International Public Relations Association (CIPRA) codes of conduct, offering some additional ethical guidelines for public relations and related strategic communication disciplines. While those codes contain enforcement and sanction methods, they are non-disciplinary. As Briggs & Bernal (2002) pointed out in Bowen (2007), this enforcement is only intended to serve informational and educational purposes. Thus, that will be a serious loophole. For those who are not any members in some specific organizations do not need to be responsible for any code of ethics. Nevertheless, by looking at the codes of conduct from some specific organizations such as CIPRA or PRSA, it’s not difficult to find out that those codes are apply only to their members but not to the general PR people. Francis Ingham (2011), CEO of the PRCA commented, “The challenge of self-regulation, though, is always the same: the people who are content to sign up to standards are not the ones who most need to sign up. And the people who will absolutely refuse to sign up are the ones who absolutely should. I am convinced the facts back up that assertion. Over the four years I’ve been in charge of the PRCA, nobody has been expelled or censured. And with good reason: our members subscribe to our standards. Our people are not the problem.” All in all, even though Francis claimed that their PR members are not the problem, one thing can be curtained is that the code is not effective enough in its enforcement and implementation. Additionally, there is another limitation about the codes are not effective enough, that


is who should follow the codes and how to follow it. Whether it is a local code, a regional code, a national code or a global code. There hasn’t a clear regulation about it. While PR industry do set out codes of ethics for their members, it is a huge difficult project to enforce them, especially under the situation of such a immature PR industry environment in China. Many PR professionals are not belonging to any authorities, and neither do their employers. Membership of these groups is composed of individuals, not companies or organizations, which means companies that may operate unethically from a public relations perspective are beyond reproach. The case about the Hill & Knowlton indicates the consequences of the ineffectiveness of the codes are bidirectional. The Executive of Hill and Knowlton, a well-known PR agency used to create a false testimony delivered to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, notoriously reminded their staff; “We’d represent Satan if he paid” (Bowen, 2007). Neither the firm nor the industry itself got the bad reputation from the public. Thus, many professionals claimed that a unification form of this issue is needed to revise. What’s worse, PR industry in China is in the stage of developing. Hence, cases about the unethical happened frequently. Food Safety is one of the major issues in China. In 2008, the case of San Lu Baby Milk became bomb among the industry. After the exposure of the contaminated baby milk powder, a well-known PR agency was pushed to the light of the general public. Because their exaggerate promotion of the company seriously violate the code of conduct they need to follow in the industry. Most of those codes provide no enforcement monitoring or recourse for their infringement, just leaving them with an impotent reaction or the most serious punishment is the occasional revocation of association membership, there do not have any practical significance to adjust the industry code of conduct (Bowen, 2007). Based on the limitations of codes of conducts in public relations mentioned before, it is unrealistic to find an immediate and fundamental solution to solve those all by one time. Whereas, there are still some methods might be appropriate for the improvement. First of all, strict monitoring of public relations practitioners with punishments and sanctions at all levels to ensure that they adhere to the code cannot be ignored. As L’Etang (2004) cited, codes are presumed to be benefit for the society only in the situation of misdemeanors are punished and sanctions applied to those who transgress the code. The code of conduct is no more than a useless decoration if its industry is unable or unwilling to enforce them. Secondly, training and retraining of public relations practitioners to build their sense of self-regulation in order to ensure the best practice in the profession industry. Organisations could establish and improve the public vocational training system and theoretical research system for the global public relations industry, build the strong sense of honor as the example of compliance with industry code of conduct and make its own contribution to the whole industry. Thus, it can make sure the PR participators obey the codes from their personal rules. Last but not the least, the organisations should increase the propaganda of domestic


enterprises, governments and other institutions, in order to gain the widely recognized from public to the public relations industry. In that way, the pressure from the general public or even their clients can give a motivation to the PR participators to abide by the codes (Tench and Yeomans, 2009). To sum up, it seems that the codes of conduct were leave a tarnished image of the PR industry by the general public. Although its goal is to regulate business, offer professionalism and respect public and the critics. However the codes haven’t effective a lot among the industry and provide no real practical method to implement moralistic ideas of integrity, fairness, honesty and loyalty. Even if they do not comply with the code, there are no real, specific modalities of implementation to enforce them. Unfortunately, there hasn’t a powerful enough code of conduct can effective the industry and reverse the public impression in a short time. The true effectives of codes of conduct have to implement by practitioners to their own. Due to public relations practitioners represent different clients, each of those will have a different expectation about what is ethical and what kinds of codes they should obey. Therefore, it is impossible to let all parties ever be ethically satisfied in such a current situation. Codes of conduct or ethics in this field are limited by the ethics of the individual professional whereas not a code of ethics, no matter how meritorious intentions it is. The codes of the PRSA and CIPRA are attempts to encourage the morality as a public relations approach, however in the reality, they provide no practical use in achieving this goal yet. The codes are too wide to follow by the members, leading the ineffectiveness of the code in some area. Instead, the code should be revised more in detail and pass additional laws and regulations to help the code effective more in the PR industry. Last but not the least, the professional PR participators should combine the industry regulation, the national or international law and their individual morals together to ensure the codes become more effective on their career in the future.


Reference: Bowen, S. (2007). Ethics and Public Relations. Available at: http://www.instituteforpr.org/topics/ethics-and-public-relations/ (Accessed: 9 November 2013). Cutlip, S. and Center, A. and Broom, G (2006) Effective Public Relations. 9th edition. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. CIPRA. (2013) PR services industry self-discipline convention. Available at: http://www.cipra.org.cn/templates/T_Second/index.aspx?nodeid=2&page=ContentPa ge&contentid=100 (Accessed: 9 November 2013). CIPR. (2013) CIRP Code of Conduct. Available at: http://www.batphonepr.com/documents/Codeofconduct.pdf (Accessed: 9 November 2013). Francis Ingham. (2011). The Benefits Of A Global Ethics Focus In PR. Available at: http://prsay.prsa.org/index.php/2011/09/21/global-ethics-standar-for-public-relations/ (Accessed: 9 November 2013). L’Etang, J. (2009). Public Relations In Britain: A history of professional practice in the 20th century. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Obalola,M. (2011). Ethics and Social Responsibility in the Public Relations Industry: A Multi-Methods Approach. Available at: https://www.dora.dmu.ac.uk/bitstream/086/4400/MAO%20Thesis.pdf?sequence=1 (Accessed: 9 November 2013). Parsons, P. (2008) Ethics in Pubulic Relations: A Guide to Best Practice. 2nd edition. New Delhi: KoganPage. PRSA. (2013) Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Member Code of Ethics. Available at: http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/#.UlsUADlfjKp (Accessed: 9 November 2013). PRSA. (2013) Professional Standards Advisoriess. Available at: http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/ProfessionalStandardsAdvisories#.UluwkTlfj Kp (Accessed: 9 November 2013). Tench, R. and Yeomans, L., (2009). Exploring Public Relations. 2nd ed. Essex: FT Prentice Hall. Wright, D. K. (2003). Communication Ethics: An Integrated Approach to Communication Theory and Research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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