Article in Propublica about PR and Journalism ethics

Posted on June 10, 2011. Filed under: Ethics, Public Relations | Tags: , , |

The article below reprises familiar discussions about shrinking newsrooms and expanding PR operations, as the comments point out this can cast journalists as unfailing seekers after truth thwarted by the evil empires of PR. But it does seem that the necessary balance has gone so that the challenge to the corporate ‘line’ is no longer mounted, as it takes resources of time and effort that the 24/7 news cycle rarely allows. In this debate, as always, economics trumps ethics.


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Are mental patients carrying the shadow of their nurses?

Posted on March 21, 2011. Filed under: Ethics, Jung, professions | Tags: , , |

BBC today reports on University of East Anglia research which suggests that mental patients’ reduced life expectancy is attributable to physical attributes like diet, smoking, lack of exercise and high alcohol use – see

Mental health nurses \’set bad example to patients

The research suggests that patients are mirroring nurses’ life styles but apparently with high mortality rates. Can’t help wondering if the patients are somehow paying the price for rejected or denied behaviours in nurses? This would be classic collective shadow dynamics in Jung’s view, or a cultural complex, as Singer and Kimbles (2004) call it.

Will try and get hold of this report and the other recent research into the treatment of the elderly by their ‘carers’. An over-attachment to images of the angelic nurse has a lot to answer for, it seems – for nurses, of course, as well as their patients. And how can they or any other group with such responsibility begin to address the ethical issues raised here, if the reality is invisible?

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Aberdeen adventure 2

Posted on October 24, 2010. Filed under: Ethics, Public Relations, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

Interesting evening at Robert Gordon University where the CIPR/Grampian PR group held the session on PR ethics. Good turn out with a group of MA PR students and people from different sectors. My bit went OK – hard to know if it was too academic but kept relating it to my own everyday PR experience with very few lit references. But still a sense overall that ethics baffles most people and they don;t spend much time thinking about it – work is too hectic for such indulgence. Students stopped to ask questions at the end and seemed interested.

Most interesting element was contribution of Matt Taylor a senior BP comms guy who seemed thoughtful and interested in the issues raised, as well as raising issues from BP experience. I quoted a BP copywriter who felt betrayed by Gulf of Mexico disaster and he seemed to ‘get’ that conflict between personal and employer values. In PR you are really close to embodying the values of the organisation, so these things matter. Like me, he seemed someone who needs to believe in their work – there are lots like that in PR, though the image of the indifferent agency dominates. If I can get any post doc funding I want to interview people like him to see how self image, image of PR and ethics interlock.

Aberdeen Travelodge was grim – and not cheap  – and train back packed but managed to squeeze a quick spin round the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, which was brilliant – fantastic building, full of fascinating information and artefacts, including 3 story model of an  oil rig.  Brief glimpse into Aberdeen world – that and busy docks visible from museum – a sense of a town that still labours physically, run on ships and machines and cranes, something missing from cities I know now – can just remember the sight of the cranes over London docks from childhood but most cities are just offices and shops now.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

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Jung @ Cornell (3)

Posted on August 14, 2010. Filed under: Conference reports, Ethics, Jung | Tags: , , |

Plane delayed (the joys of US air travel) so time for reflection at end of  conference:

Surprised by lack of explicit investigation of ethics, given it was a keyword in conference title; only one paper (Bonnelle Strickling) explored relationship between Jung and another body of theory, in that case virtue ethics. Another presenter (Don Moores) referred to links w Jung and Aristotlean eudaimonia in an interesting session on the ecstatic in art and culture. Other aspects of ethics were implicit and focused on object relations or the other. Enjyed a useful workshop on psychological types – much easier to understand from a human than a book – which again implied ethical relations.

– and that’s one of the joys of a conference like this when your understanding is so based in literature: here people are talking about the concepts, phrases and contested interpretations that were hitherto just text – so much more vivid.

Realise that last year I wrote down every word; this year I can absorb and reflect, digesting rather than force feeding.

Fabulous conversations with great people: getting to know people throughtheir books and papers, then another dimension through presentations, then the human emerges over dinner. I remember noting at last year’s  conference in Cardiff that delegates seem to bring their whole self to academic conferences, not just their professional personae. Really pleased t have spent time with Roger Brooke whose work on Jung and phenomenology I knew (though felt out of my depth with) who gave the opening plenary session on post combat trauma. He mentioned a paper on Psyche Self and the World which I found online and will use in thesis – terrifically lucid and helpful. Nice man,too.

Hope to stay in touch with rinda west – felt like the start of a friendship. Love the fact she’s left teaching and taken up landscape gardening; she gave a terrific presentation on the garden in the psyche. And we make each other laugh.

Looking at comments I wrote after the Cardiff conference, this year’s event felt more inward looking, with fewer bridges into different disciplines, though key speakers all brought tremendous richness with them. I like the idea that the JSSS use in their conferences of consecutive rather than parallel sessions, even if it means fewer papers. Would provide more of an unfolding narrative.

Personally, I have  felt encouraged by feedback and advice, have several names whom I could approach for collaboration or other support. May contact them in coming months as I move from PhD to post doc work. Need to get moving on book plans too and work out how to fund the writing process.

Last night closed with dinner dance thing – not quite enough dancing for me, but made it to observatory to see andromeda galaxy and neptune – more adventures in the universe.

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can you do ethical PR for unethical countries??

Posted on August 3, 2010. Filed under: Ethics, professions, Public Relations, Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

London PR capital for makeovers of dodgy countries

Today’s Guardian (see link) runs a big expose of the PR industry’s expanding market of re-branding for countries with appalling human rights records. It shows details of work done for Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and others, contrasting the PR statements with those from Amnesty and UN sources.

The PR people offer the usual defences – ‘we’re like lawyers’; ‘as long as I’m comfortable’ ‘my job is to assist communication not judge them’ ‘nobody’s perfect’.

As set out in the article these look specious to put it politely and there are real problems with these lines: for a start PR does not resemble the law at all, though many ethicists claim a legal approach to ethics (esp. US- based on First Amendment arguments). There is no courtroom with equal  rights for prosecutors and defenders, no public defence lawyers, rules of evidence etc. It’s more like a back-alley fight, no rules.

Likewise the use of ‘comfort’ as a moral indicator is only valid if one is convinced a real moral struggle precedes the conclusion.

But what moral responsibility do communicators have for clients? Should there be a list of forbidden clients? Even though the UK government is doing business? Should PRs run boycotts when other trade is permitted? Should they aim for higher standards?

There is a conundrum in that PR often claims to ‘serve society’ , citing many examples of how communication aids understanding, motivates communities etc. But at the same time it asks to operate just like any other business.

The problem, surely, is that PR ethics is a complete mess, with minimal reflection, just a grab-bag of excuses and slogans, lacking any sense of the internal contradictions of these statements.

It would be more consistent to operate as a business, free to serve any client no matter how noxious, and abandon the claims to ethical standards. But that would jeopardise the ‘professional project’ the claim that the profession is entitled to trust and autonomy because it operates on ethical lines.

So what would a really ethical PR do?

I am not convinced that ethics lie in the client’s activities – whether its oil, tobacco or repressive regimes. What matters is that the communication is ethical – an outcome unlikely to be achieved if the client is looking to conceal or distort its central functions. I would like to see PR people turn down work because the client wants to withhold important information from the public, whether the client is Saudi Arabia or Amnesty International.

I also think we need to support investigate journalism like the Guardian piece because that’s the best defence against ignorance = maybe the PR profession should pay a tithe to support the exposure of their own deception?

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getting there

Posted on July 25, 2010. Filed under: Ethics, Jung, main themes, PhD stuff, professions | Tags: , , |

finally feel I am heading towards the final stages of the thesis. Two meetings yesterday with supervisors (staggered for logistical reasons) who are v happy with the chapter I wrote last week on another visit to St Deiniol’s.  Things are coming together….

Chapter 8 brings into play all the themes of the thesis: professional ethics, Jungian ethics and their relation to each other, and begins to sketch what a Jungian approach to professional ethics would actually look like. There was a time writing it when I thought this is where the drums will roll, the velvet curtains will part – and the stage will be empty. But no; this is what I discovered:

  • professions could choose to drop their claims to be ethical and ‘serve society’ – claims which have little substance in reality – this would be an ethical improvement as the charge of hypocrisy could be dropped and the illusion of ethics abandoned. price they’d pay would be loss of  the professional kudos, the social status that is gained in exchange for alleged professional ethics, so more like to face external regulation,
  • OR they could step up to the claim and  actually engage with the complexity and conflict involved in any attempt to live ethically, but particularly challenging in the Jungian approach because it means facing the shadow aspects of the profession, bringing to consciousness the hidden impulses, temptations and abuses that have congregate under the surface of that particular grouping
  • this will require moral leadership, but as Jungian  theory makes clear , the group may actually embody the leaders’ shadow aspects making it v hard for the leaders to see what they are hiding from themselves – a facilitator may be needed; lay members may see the situation more clearly
  • An ethics advisory forum cd provide the space for free debate an the airing of ‘cultural complexes’ – the Other may be a rival profession but could be an internal group, ostracised by gender, race, sexuality or background – or by an occupational sub-grouping (eg broadsheet vs tabloid journalists; foreign vs arts correspondents)
  • There will not be a new code: this is about process rather than right/wrong acts. It will entail living with uncertainty: holding the contradictions; not knowing. This will distress those who expect to be told exactly how to behave and are unwilling/unprepared to take responsibility for their own ethical being – hardly surprising when everyone else is playing the blame game. But I think many already experience this; identifying it may be helpful and welcome
  • the question of whether a separate ethics for professions is necessary is I think answered by suggesting that the base for all professional ethics is human ethics, not an elevated sense of moral superiority. Quite the reverse; it is because certain complexes will have built up in groups and professions that they have a particular responsibility to ensure maximum awareness of the shadow dynamics of their group.
  • have also found tremendous academic richness in juxtaposing Jungian and other ethics, exploring however briefly the points of contact and divergence with Asian ethics, post modern approaches and particularly virtue ethics. No space/time here, but juicy stuff… tbc
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ethical conflicts in practice

Posted on March 31, 2010. Filed under: Ethics, professions | Tags: , |

Reflecting on the  questions raised by the impact of a Jungian ethic on professional practice. The purpose  is not to create a blueprint, checklist or new set of codes. It is to begin a discussion about building a bridge between the theory explored in the thesis and the lived world of professional ethics. This is not about an artificial divide between theory and practice; indeed it argues that practice is currently impoverished by the absence of workable theory. Illustrative comments from practitioners testify to the gap between the ideals or theoretical ethics promoted by professional bodies and leaders in the discipline and the conflicted experience of ethics among ordinary practitioners. For example Peter O’Malley writes:

the Code of Professional Conduct of the Canadian Public Relations Society… preaches that ethical professional conduct for public relations practitioners has something to do with promoting “honesty, accuracy, integrity and truth” in public communications. While this notion might be truly inspiring, it nonetheless ignores what public relations actually is all about — namely, the advocacy and dissemination of the partisan viewpoints of those who engage our services, for the benefit of those who engage our services.

Accessed 30/03/10 from

I disagree with this characterisation of  PR but it is a dominant one and describes a great deal of practice, whereas the idealised ethics describe… something else. This thesis hopes to start a new debate about the relationship between stated and lived ethics; it also renews a debate found elsewhere about the relationship of the individual to the profession in regard to ethics. Is the practitioner to consider their morals a private affair to be left outside the office door, or located in their whole being and therefore indivisible? Which parts of a practitioner does an employer or client own and control? Which aspects does an employee/contractor – and particularly a professional, with claims to independence – surrender to the client?

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new link to Zimbardo

Posted on July 27, 2009. Filed under: Ethics |

Fascinating talk at last year’s TED from Philip Zimbardo (leader of infamous Stanford experiment)  about evil and social institutions


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Can society play the god role?

Posted on April 21, 2009. Filed under: Ethics, Jung | Tags: |

Have been pondering whether it is essential to embrace a concept of God to displace the ego-self from the centre of the universe, as part of Jung’s indidivuation process. Just imagining addressing a group of professional bodies…. I am happy to see ethics as a fundamentally spiritual issue but don’t want to close off discussion or limit ethical debate to a branch of theology.

In yesterday’s excellent supervision meeting it was suggested I look at transpersonal psychology which faced the same issue in trying to adapt Jungian ideas for a secular age… they place humans in the god-archetype role, leading to a humanistic ethics. This also meets the generic spirituality I am aiming for/embodying in the project.

Plenty more to find out but my guess is that it would then become possible to suggest that a professional body needs to locate its self-interests in the wider context of humanity in order to gain a deeper perspective. Most professional codes and bodies claim to be of benefit to society – it’s one of the hallmarks of a profession – but tend not to elaborate on what they mean by the word and largely end up serving other institutions anyway.

I want to emphasise a more profound sense of operating in a global humanistic context of mutual relationship and interdependency which feels more in keeping with both my and Jung’s values – may still be laughed at in practice, but worth saying.

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Ethical approaches

Posted on September 23, 2008. Filed under: Ethics |

Wondered if ethical approaches could be put in a kind of matrix or typology, along the following lines:

a) Judeo-Christian = emphasis on goodness, idealised versions of humanity (eg Christ figure); dualistic, with God= Good; Satan = evil. Purpose of religion is to ensure highest ethics with heavenly rewards. In time, ethics and role of religion become entwined with support for social stability (though revolutionary ethics also found in S.American Church leaders). The standards are set by an external, watchful deity to encourage goodness, punish badness.

b) Classical ethics – Aristotle = virtue ethics, emphasis on personal character, what makes a good man? Different dimensions of virtue – do not need to be absolute to be virtuous. Discussion is centred on the individual not transcendent Power. Sense that character involves negotiation with self, caught between conflicting impulses. Reason is instrument for determining ethics.

c) Eastern/Asian ethics – Tao, Confucian approaches = man contains good and bad; goal is to create harmony not goodness. Bad cannot be excluded any more than night can; union of opposites (yin/yang ). Perhaps also distinction between ego-driven behaviour and self-acceptance as basis for ethics? God is implied as internal rather than external presence – esoteric not exoteric law making.

I’d guess most western ethics rests on a) and b). Writers like Neitzsche and Jung are drawn to the third  – harder to articulate in many ways – not integrated into the culture like the others, but offers a rich mix of philosophy and psychology. Seems both blindingly self-evident and an inexplicable secret.

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