Does PR have an ethics problem? A discussion on the latest PRmoment podcast

This week we're talking about whether PR has an ethics problem. Are PR ethics absolute? Are they relative? Or are they personal to all of us?

If you were an outside observer of the Twitter chat of various PR thought leaders you’d have thought that bad ethics is a real and present danger to the business of public relations. But is it? How much bad practice is there? And what does that poor practice look like?

On the show to discuss this issue are the co-authors of Public Relations Ethics Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy.

Thanks to the PRmoment podcast sponsors, the PRCA and to markettiers for producing this podcast for us.

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02.00 mins Does PR have an ethics problem?

03.00 mins Has the PR sector become obsessed with ethics in the shadow of the Bell Pottinger scandal?

04.55 mins Is there more evidence of bad ethics in banking, accountancy or law than there is in public relations?

05.45 mins “PR doesn't have much of a public face. The nature of the PR/journalist relationship means journalists always have the last word. That impacts the public impression of PR.”

08.00 mins “There are acceptable lies...and there are unacceptable lies”.

10.00 mins The public’s perception of who it is acceptable to work for is changing - this has implications for lawyers, PR firms, meat producers and fossil fuel producers.

11.30 mins Because PR is not a profession, there are very few punishments for unethical behaviour - you can’t be struck off like accountants, lawyers or doctors because you’ve never qualified!

12.20 mins “It’s understandable that lots of people want PR to be a profession...because it’s about controlling entry and one of the grips of the PR industry has been about relatively low fees compared to established professions.”

14.00 mins Some examples of why ethics in PR are subjective

18.00 mins Why regulation of lying in PR is almost impossible

19.00 mins “If someone keeps telling me they’re honest, I check my wallet”.

20.00 mins “Anyone who tells you they’ve never told a lie is a liar”

20.00 mins A PR code of ethics checklist

21.00 mins “The do as you would be done by” principle

24.00 mins “There are things people are doing today that will be seen as unethical in 5 years time.”

32.00 mins Trevor and Simon talk about their work on the Global PR Ethics Council

33.00 mins How much unethical practice is there currently in public relations?

35.00 mins A discussion around the implications of fake news for public relations ethics

37.00 mins Why lobbying is the most controversial element of PR ethics

39.00 mins Is lobbying ahead of the rest of the public relations sector when it comes to the regulation of ethics?

45.00 mins Where is the unethical line? Buying lunch, a nice lunch, corporate hospitality, a free week's holiday…

50.00 mins “PR must be aware of its ethical issues otherwise it will lose the trust of the public.”

51.00 mins “There are issues around how PR professionals make their case that are real and live, especially as very often these no longer go through the filter of journalism.”


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