Public Relations is a department in an organization or firm that is concerned with the way in which the public views the organization and seeks to get approval for the firm’s activities. The Practitioner here then is the person assigned the duty of seeking approval from the public for the organization’s activities.
Public Relations stems from several theories such as communication which encompasses levels of communication whether is interpersonal, group, public or mass, or organizational. All these must be taken into account by the Public Relations Practitioner (Wilcox, 2008). Whether communicating to groups or in public with many people or at organizational level where employees and employers are included, the practitioner must know what to say at different levels. The statements released should also depend on the situation at hand, and whether it needs persuasion or decision making.
A Public Relations Practitioner is tasked with the sole purpose of creating good relations between the organization and its publics and publics here refers to its customers, employees, suppliers and everybody else that the organization comes into contact with (Seitel, 2010). The person in the office is expected to follow the ethical codes of their organizations. As much as possible, Public Relations practitioners are supposed to be as truthful as their ethical codes stipulate. They have a responsibility to the organization, the society and even to themselves, and this responsibility means taking into consideration all those that will be affected by their decisions. However, there are instances that the practitioner is placed in a position where sometimes they are forced to withdraw a truth to protect the employer thus not fulfilling their obligations to the rest of the publics but this is not always the case.
Sometimes when a lie has been told and they have been found out credibility is lost and the image created has not been very good. However, I believe that there is a difference between telling a lie and withdrawing a truth from the public. In cases where something happens in an organization and their publics are not directly affected, then such a truth can be withheld from them and it be revealed later when the problem has been solved. This truth told at a later date must be told to build trust in case it is later known from a different source as is sometimes the case.
In the case of James Hardie, a company that specialized in the mining of asbestos and manufacture of cement and other building materials inclusive was taken to court for the effects of their activities on their employees, who are part of their publics. It was discovered that the employees had suffered various diseases arising from coming into contact with asbestos. Claims were made by former employees of the James Hardie companies. The company had known all along that inhaling asbestos was dangerous but this truth was not revealed until late in the 1978 when they started putting labels that inhaling dust from asbestos could result in cancer and other complicated diseases. The damage had been done and those who had worked in the company before then had suffered various diseases and it was discovered the diseases were related to asbestos dust. The workers had been getting compensation but this stopped in 1987.
The company tasked with dealing with compensation MRCF had been receiving funds from James Hardie Company which later decided that MRCF was rich enough to make compensation without the company giving it funds. This was a lie because when calculated, the liabilities exceeded by far what the company had revealed. The prosecution was contemplating instituting criminal charges against the company and it’s Chief Executive for hiding the truth by signing statements that they knew contained misleading information on their finance.
In the case of James Hardie mentioned above, the PR Practitioner did not take into account the fact that the truth that was hidden from the workers affected them directly and they needed to know it so that they could make a decision whether to work there or not to. He knew that at some point the dust inhaled could cause problems so he had the obligation to tell the truth. The CEO of the company was also obligated to be truthful concerning the liabilities the company had because these are bare truths that could not be hidden. At some point in the history of the company they were bound to come out and this could injure the image of the company and cost it financially. The PR was not ethical because as much as the truth can be withheld, it is only for a time as a solution is being sought to the issues arising.
In the long run, the James Hardie Company settles what is said to be the largest personal injury compensation in Australia. This has become a constant reminder to those Public Relations managers and Chief Executives to be responsible for the statements they release to the media (Williams, 2011).
The Code of Ethics for Public Relations Practitioners is that good relations should be created at all times. There has been a lot of mistrust created because of the actions of some of the Practitioners of public relations. many blunders have been seen and heard from mega companies as a result of the actions of some of the practitioners who do not go back to undo what they created by telling the truth and why they did so then. Because of some of these events and some of the scandals that have come up because of lack of openness when communicating with the publics as well as lack of honest, sometimes people ask if Public Relations Ethics is equal to telling the truth in the face of crises. It has been the habit especially of politicians and even Chief Executives desperate to save their faces and that of their companies to twist the truth.
However, Public Relations Ethics I must say means being truthful but that truth must be said in a way that will not hurt any of the publics of a company. Public relations is the face of any company and mistrust built because of not being honest and especially when people feel that the truth is not being said will cause greater scandals than those most companies face (Scott, 2010). When it comes to sharing information with the media, great care must be taken because the media is usually after making a story, however, scandalous while the interest of the company is to guard its image and relationship with her publics (Dilenschneider, 2010). Public Relations ethics has raised much concern because it is believed that besides being professionals, the practitioners have not stood by the ethics that govern their profession and even after making steps towards being considered as advisors in management, still the profession has a history that is tarnished. An Ethical Public Relations Practitioner should be straightforward and always tell the truth, but tactically so, even if it means delayed truth that is revealed after for the purpose of saving the image of the organization.
- Dilenschneider, R. L. 2010.The AMA Handbook of public Relations, 1 edition. AMACOM.
- Seitel, P. F. 2010. The Practice of Public Relations. 11th ed..New York: Prentice Hall
- Scott, D. M. 2010. New Rules of Marketing and Public Relations. 2nd edition. Somerset, NJ: John Wiley.
- Wilcox, D. L. 2008. Public Relations Strategies. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Williams, P. 2011. Media Strategies for Internet Marketers. Preneur Marketing.