Ethics and the Public Relations Practitioner

Every public relations course I have taken so far has contained a chapter on ethics. Being the knowledgeable student that I am I have realized that text books include this chapter because it is one of the most important things we learn about. It is a topic that reoccurs not only in the public relations field, but every field. And no matter how much we learn about making moral and ethical decisions, is it really something that can be taught? It seems that the decision is based on the situation and the person handling it. Ethics is also a hard word to define because it can be confused with many others: morality, beliefs, values, and others. Sometimes a prevelent stereotype in socitety is that all public relations practitioners are unethical. Because of this ethics is a growing concern in the field. To help find a solution to the ethics problem many practitioners and professors have researched and published studies that focus on ethics and how it affects public relations. Paul S. Liber recently published an article in Public Relations Review that focuses on the decision making process behind an ethical choice. ” Moral development in public relations: Measuring duty to society in strategic communication” uses a version of the Defining Issues Test (DIT) to “gather data on the decision-making process of 116, U.S.-based public relations practitioners”( Lieber, 2008, p. 1).

The article is well writen and helps define why ethics is important to practitioners and society as a whole. Lieber states that when making an ethical decision it impacts many people including: the duty to self, society, the employer, the client, and the profession as a whole (Lieber, 2008). He also stresses that every time we communicate there is a possibility it could impact ourselves or our employer in a negative or positive way. The reason ethics is such a hot topic is because it can not be enforced. It is a personal choice and is different for everyone. The Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business communications both have a code of ethics, but if a member breaks them little can be done. What Lieber wanted to achieve with his study is to discover the process behind ethical choices. He does this using Moral development theory. Moral development theory focuses on process rather than a specific ethical code. Lieber asked the participants about six dilemmas and then they decided using the six stages of moral development what they would do in the situation. After surveying 116 practitioners and using the six stages of moral development lieber discovered that the practitioners job setting and years of experience had the most impact on ethical behaviors. All of the information in the article is beneficial to some one studying public relations. Lieber stresses the importance of using theories like moral development to expand the research being done on ethics.

The article would be useful for every corporation including mine (Pepsi Co). Since ethics is such a big topic in public relations all aspects of a company should be aware that what they say and do affects more than just themselves. These decisions impact the company, society, and the profession. The field gets such a bad reputation it is very important to keep the trust and the respect of clients and the community.

Lieber, P.S. (2008). Moral development in public relations: Measuring duty to society in strategic communication. Public Relations Review, 34, 244-251