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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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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