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.

pr-industry-fills-vacuum-left-by-shrinking-newsrooms

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Nice post from Philip Young

Posted on May 13, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

more comments on the Burson-Mastellar mess – including references to my work!Mediations post

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BM/facebook ethics & PR mess

Posted on May 13, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

PRSA chair comments on BM/Facebook
scandal

Leading US PR firm Burson Marstellar (BM) has been badmouthing Google on behalf of Facebook and trying to disguise both the relationship and the activities. The PRSA uses this as an opportunity to point out that low membership profile in BM may be a factor in low ethical responsibility. It would be interesting to research this correlation. There are so many factors: membership of professional body PLUS knowledge of code of conduct PLUS willingness to abide by code PLUS cultural/social environment to support such decisions. Suspect the latter is the crunch factor – ethical leadership isn’t written on paper

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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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Aberdeen adventure

Posted on October 17, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , |

Planning what to say to the Aberdeen/Grampian CIPR meeting on Thursday. The audience is mostly oil industry PR, my subject is PR ethics. Should be fascinating. I imagine they get double distaste, oil AND PR, yeuggh. But it occurs to me that all the disapprovers (including me) end up shoving sectors like oil and arms further into the shadow when of course we need to turn the lights on. The blame game maybe feeds that. Do oil industry PR people embrace the demonic, yeah I’m a bad dude, or deny it, we’re helping save the world, really? I’ve said before that I think the focus on employers in the debates on PR ethics are indicators of the poverty of the discourse, but it is interesting. Also credit: this is the only CIPR group to have responded to a UK wide call for meetings on ethics.

My intention is not to point fingers but to highlight the utter mess that is PR ethics. My most recent research has shown that codes are based on the excellence model, all ideals and symmetry and equality, but practitioners see themselves as advocates, with loyalty to client above society. This is a massive paradigm schism and helps explain why codes are so irrelevant to most practitioners: they are not speaking the same language.

Coupled with the split between PR as seen from the inside (serving humanity) and from the outside (propaganda and distortion), the field seems profoundly fractured. Interestingly there seems to be very little concern about this. Why is that, I wonder?

So I welcome the invitation to Aberdeen and greatly look forward to Q&A.

Ethics Event Flyer v3

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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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Interesting article from BP advertiser

Posted on July 9, 2010. Filed under: professions, Public Relations | Tags: , , |

This article appeared in Advertising Age and raises several interesting issues about ethics, personal and professional responsibility. The writer wrestles with his past involvement as copywriter for BP and current catastrophe in Gulf  of Mexico. Interesting that he ‘bought’ the original campaign – as I have done in the past, then wondered at the degree of identification with a set of arguments. I suspect self-persuasion and ego-defences kick in and this article reveals a damaged ego (the ID with dying pelicans for example). There are also interesting comments from others who have clearly shared the experience.

Will be useful material when I go to Aberdeen as part of a session on PR ethics for PRs in the oil industry!

http://adage.com/columns/article?article_id=144750

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