The Ethical Connection: Public Relations & Journalism
Public Relations & Journalism • Different but much in common • Major emphasis on writing • Gathering information, synthesizing • Interviewing • Using the channels of mass media, including the Internet • Ethical values
Exploring the Ethical Aspects • Ethical behavior in democratic society • Objectives, purpose of each field • Role differentiation • Standards of professionalism • Professional membership groups • Codes of ethics • The issue of media bribery – “Pay for Play”
Ethical Behavior • Three major forces that shape the ethics of a PR practitioner or Journalist: • Wider moral principles of the society • The purpose of their occupation in society • The expectations of the public
Two Parts of “Society” • Culture • A social system based on a central set of beliefs and values • Values • Broad dominant social attribute, behaviors, and larger goals that are promoted and defended by society
Communication Professionals • Citizens of society • Must practice values as professionals that include truth and honesty in message construction and dissemination. • These are the values that professionals declare as important to society at large
Value Orientations • Absolutist • Either right or wrong, despite consequences • Existentialist • Immediate practical choice • Situationalist • Least harm for the most good
Practical Ethical Decisions • Public relations practitioners and journalists must make daily decisions based on: • The public interest • Their employer • Standards of their profession • Their personal values: truth-telling, loyalty, promise-keeping, and what is morally right
Role, Purpose of Each Field • Public relations vs. journalism • Scope: broad vs. narrow • Objectives: objectivity vs. advocacy • Audiences: segmented vs. mass • Channels: multiple vs. single medium
Role, Purpose of Each Field • Public relations vs. advertising • Publicity (news) vs. paid space • News departments vs. advertising office • No control over publication vs. total control • News subsidy vs. revenue • Inexpensive vs. Expensive
Role, Purpose of Each Field • Public relations vs. Marketing • Both deal with organization’s relationships • Both concerned with economic success of organization • Both use similar tactics – product publicity, special events, sponsorships • But…….
Role, Purpose of Each Field • Marketing is focused on consumers, prospective customers, target markets • Public relations is focused on variety of publics – employees, investors, consumers, environmentalists, etc. • Marketing promotes sales; public relations generates goodwill, reputation, and building relationships
The Ethics of Advocacy • Objective of public relations practitioner is to help the organization achieve its goals • Their role is that of an advocate for the Organization • Raises question -- Can one serve as advocate and still be ethical???
Role Differentiation • The answer is “yes.” • Society expects: • Public relations practitioners to be advocates • Journalists to be objective, fair, and unbiased • Advertising copywriters to make products attractive • Attorneys/legal counsel to defend a person in court • Medical doctors to “do no harm.”
Role Differentiation • “What reasonable persons require, however, is that such advocacy efforts be directed toward genuinely informing impacted publics… Communication efforts should not present false, deceptive, misleading information under the guise of literal truth…” • Dr. David Martinson, Florida International University
Professional Status • Neither public relations or journalism are “professions” by most common standards • No prescribed standards of educational preparation • No required body of knowledge - No mandatory period of apprenticeship • No government regulation or licensing to enter the profession
Some Steps Toward Profession • Both public relations and journalism are now accepted as academic disciplines • Vast increase in the body of knowledge • Considerable research about effects of mass media • Theory building – agenda setting theory to crisis communication theory • But licensing violates free press
Acting Like a Professional • Public relations practitioners and journalists should be professional in their work: • A sense of independence • A sense of responsibility to society and the public interest • Concern for honor of the profession • Higher loyalty to the standards of the profession than the employer of the moment
Taking Personal Responsibility • The Dangers of the Technician mentality • Being very “professional” in how something is communicated – instead of what is communicated. • Cannot avoid the ethical considerations by simply saying “My boss told me to do it.”
Professional Groups • Major exponent and generator of professionalism • Develop codes of ethics • Defines the role of its members in society • Provides continuing education opportunities • Speaks out and defends free press, advocates free flow of information • Articulates the standards of the profession
Some Professional Groups • International Public Relations Association (IPRA) • International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) • National groups such as Ukrainian Association of Public Relations
Codes of Ethics • Public relations and journalism organizations have different codes specific to the profession, but also many things in common. • Two areas: • Commitment to truth and accuracy • Concern about bribery
Truth and Accuracy • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ): “Respect for truth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.” • Society of Professional Journalists: “The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.
Truth and Accuracy • International Public Relations Association (IPRA): • “Members shall refrain from (l) subordinating the truth to other requirements, and (2) circulating information which is not based on established and ascertained facts.”
Truth and Accuracy • International Association of Business Communicators (IABC): “Members shall engage in truthful, accurate, and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding.” • Public Relations Society of America (PRSA): “Honesty: Adhering to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of clients and employers.”
Bribery, Gifts • Professional groups in public relations and journalism have condemned bribery, acceptance of expensive gifts, or other favors that would compromise the integrity and credibility of the media • Particularly a problem in a nation when: • There is no strong tradition of free press • Journalists get paid low wages • Advertising revenue is inadequate for media independence • There is corruption and lack of transparency in the institutions of society.
Bribery, Gifts • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ): “The journalist shall regard as grave professional offenses the following: plagiarism, malicious misinterpretation, calumny, libel, slander, unfounded accusations, acceptance of a bribe in any form in consideration of either publication or suppression.”
Bribery, Gifts • Society of Professional Journalists (USA): “Journalists should (1) refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office, and service in a community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity, and (2) deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.”
Bribery,Gifts • Public Relations Society of America (PRSA): “Members shall not give an expensive gift to a journalist as a bribe so that he or she will write favorable stories about the organization or its products/services. Lavish entertainment and travel junkets for government officials, beyond the limits set by law, are also improper.”
Bribery, Gifts • International Association of Business Communicators (IABC): • “Professional communicators will not accept undisclosed gifts or payments for professional services from anyone other than a client or employer.”
Mutual Concerns • Both public relations practitioners and journalists have a vested interest in ensuring the integrity and credibility of the news media. • The giving of bribes – and the taking of bribes -- known as “pay for play” undermines the press in a free and democratic society
Mutual Concerns • Public relations professional are dependent on the mass media for dissemination of their messages, but the validity of these messages are diminished when the process is corrupt and independent news judgment is not exercised.
Stamping Out Bribery • A new initiative: The Charter on Media Transparency: • Sponsoring Organizations: • International Public Relations Association • International Federation of Journalists • International Press Institute • Global Alliance of Public Relations • Institute for Public Relations • Transparency International
The Charter on Media Transparency • News material should appear as a result of the news judgment of journalists and editors and not as a result of any payment in cash or in kind, or any other inducements. • Material involving payment should be clearly identified as advertising, sponsorship, or promotion
Charter, continued • No journalist or media representative should ever suggest that news coverage will appear for any other reason other than its merit. • When samples or loans of products or services are necessary for a journalist to render an opinion, the length of time should be agreed in advance and loaned products should be returned afterward.
Charter, Continued • The media should institute written policies regarding the receipt of gifts or discounted products, services, and journalists should be required to sign the policy.
Media Transparency Charter • “The media have an important watchdog role to hold to those in positions of power. To be credible in this role, it is essential that journalists refuse bribes and the corporate desists from offering bribes. • Peter Eigen, • Chairman of Transparency International
Conclusion • Public relations and journalism have a symbiotic relationship – both need each other. • Both realize that communication integrity is paramount • Both believe the free flow of information is essential for a marketplace of ideas in a democratic society
And a final thought: • “Any manipulation of information must be viewed as a threat to civil society, regardless whether ‘cash for news coverage’ is offered by public relations practitioners or is solicited by newspaper media that publicly portend to value fairness, objectivity and truth” • Dr. Dean Kruckeberg, University of Northern Iowa and author of monograph on media bribery.
Thank you Dr. Dennis L. Wilcox Professor of Public Relations San Jose State University, California firstname.lastname@example.org