Ethical Decision Based On Definition

Public relations is an industry that requires ethical behavior and yet is often criticized as one that has incredible ethical lapses. In spite of this, some claim that public relations professionals should have “unimpeachable ethical standards” that develop trust from clients and the public. The reason people argue that ethical behavior is inherent to public relations relates directly to the purpose and function of public relations in society.

Four Standards of a Profession

To be a recognized profession in society, there are four standards that must be met:

Public relations professionals meet each of these criteria and are, therefore, held to expectations that society has of professionals. Part of society’s expectation of professionals is that they will not place personal gain ahead of the public good. As a result of this expectation, “society grants professional standing to those groups which contribute to the well-being of the broader society.”

The contribution to society could be considered the moral purpose of the profession. Seib and Fitzpatrick suggest:

“Every profession has a moral purpose. Medicine has health. Law has justice. Public relations has harmony—social harmony.”

In other words, it is this professional responsibility for public relations that helps professionals understand what their ethical obligation is in various situations. For example, it is reasonable to expect ethical decisions of a doctor to be based on their obligation as a medical professional. We do not expect lawyers or teachers to have the same ethical decision-making and moral obligations as they belong to a different industry that has different requirements, standards and purposes. Therefore, each industry must be fully understood in order to articulate the moral obligations and ethical decision making required. This makes the definition or essence of public relations particularly pertinent to the discussion of ethics, as it is the foundation for the ethical decision-making expected of professionals within the profession.

Next Page: Assumptions of Obligations in the Public Relations Profession