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Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) I’m not sure that there’s anything more humbling than being invited as a so-called “ethics expert” to speak to a group of seasoned professionals in any field. Indeed, I a year or two ago when I asked my students in my undergraduate ethics course in the BPR program at MSVU if there was anything they’d like to know about me. For the first time ever, one of the students asked me if I had ever done anything unethical. Of course I have – everyone has. That's why it’s daunting to speak to anyone about ethics especially communications professionals who are well aware that they work in a field that has its work cut out for it in terms of both ensuring that their practice is ethical and that it is perceived that way. I was fascinated by this opportunity – I always learn a lot from every group to whom I speak – but I also have a healthy dose of trepidation. I did not come here today to tell you how you ought to behave. I did not come here to discuss with you the underlying ethics of what you do or don’t do. You have not reached your positions that you hold today in this field without having a developed a kind of ethical radar, nor have you reached this point without having had to “hold your nose” from time to time and do something that stretched your ethical boundaries to their breaking point. The question is: how can you as an individual learn to live with the ethical contradictions that are a part of (but not completely unique to) being professional communicators within a government bureaucracy? That’s the question that I hope that I might help you to answer. Here’s what I propose: I’ll talk for a bout 20 minutes to provide a context. Then we’ll use these points (as well as others that you might be interested in) to discuss a couple of cases that your group has generated. My goal is for you to feel that you’ve learned at least one thing that will help you to deal with the ethical issues you face on a daily basis.
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine on faculty at MSVU asked me why I bothered to pursue the issue of ethics in public communication. She thought that it was a losing battle—that from a former journalist who had come over to the dark side to boot. Ghandi’s pronouncement is inspiring, and exhorts us to embody ethics or any other “good” thing that we consider to be necessary for changing the way things are. However, its’ also frustrating in our field since being the voice of ethics isn’t always popular nor is it heeded. I prefer to consider my favorite definition of ethics…
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) Ethics is drawing a black line through a grey area. So, I continue in this pursuit because I think that there is hope for us as individuals to feel good about what we do and because I have observed over the year that there are distinct camps into which PR and corporate communication professionals fall and that there is hope. Which of the following groups do you see yourself in? Are you one of…
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) Which of the following groups do you see yourself in? Are you one of… … those who don’t care about ethics. a small, but visible group of PR practitioners who seem to think as long as their employers or clients are willing to pay them – and pay them well – then that’s all that really matters. the minority that tends to give the rest of us a bad name. … those who don’t think anything can be done anyway. I have concluded that those who fall into the second group are in the majority. agree unethical activities going on in our field (as in all other fields today: consider accounting, medicine, law, politics and the clergy to name a few) decided to throw their hands up in the air and figure that it’s too big a job to tackle. … those who wouldn’t know an ethical dilemma if they fell over one. Bigger group than you might think.a significant problem in PR -- at the beginning of the ethics course I teach to second and third year BPR students. Ss many daily activities they take for granted such as copying CD’s and using the office copier for personal business are glossed over. But this is where unethical behaviour begins. … those who are working actively to make some changes, both in their work and in the PR industry as a whole. a small but growing group in the public relations industry. Behind the scenes in professional organizations and private businesses, PR professionals are trying to make a difference. -- asking questions and refusing to do what they know to be morally suspect. -- not always popular.
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) I am grateful to a new, young colleague of mine for introducing me to some work that has been done on images of occupations. In 1951 sociologist Everett Hughes coined the term “dirty work” to refer to tasks and occupations that are likely to be perceived by the public as disgusting or degrading. Two more recent academics at Arizona State University (Blake Ashforth and Glen Kreiner) further developed this idea and wrote a paper I 1999 titled “How Can You Do it? Dirty work and the challenge of constructing a positive identity.” In that paper they defined dirty work on three levels, elaborating on the work Hughes had done previously. : physical, social and moral. For example, butchers and janitors would do physically dirty work. AIDS workers and prison guards would perform perceived socially dirty work and morally dirty work would be carried out by those whose work is generally regarded as ”somewhat sinful or of dubious virtue (p. 415). This is what is called “moral taint” and is the category into which public relations falls as a result of our history. Morally tainted occupations are further defined as those that utilize methods that are perceived as “deceptive, intrusive, confrontational.” (p. 416). So what’s the problem with being morally tainted? It interferes with the development of an occupational identity resulting in a group’s inability to work together to improve the self-esteem and external image of what they do. This is clearly evident in the failed attempts of professional organizations to do PR for PR. Because this affects how we are perceived by society, it can be an obstacle to accomplishing our goals. We may be barred from certain roles and positions as a result of this perception. For example: no role in organizational decision-making. The second group is the one for which there is the most hope in my view. What they are looking for is a way through the ethical quagmire that permits them to be able to happily submit to management guru Peter Drucker’s “Mirror Test.” Drucker, management writer and professor argues that the test is a simple one: As the story goes, the most highly respected diplomatist of all the great powers in the early years of the 20th century was the German ambassador to London. He was clearly destined for higher things, at least to become his country’s foreign minister, if not German Federal Chancellor. Yet, in 1906, he abruptly resigned. King Edward VII had then been on the British throne for five years, and the diplomatic corps was going to give him a big dinner. The German ambassador, being the dean of the diplomatic corps – he had been in London for close to 15 years – was to be the chairman of that dinner. King Edward VII was a notorious womanizer and made it clear what kind of diner he wanted – at the end, after dessert had been served, a huge cake was going to appear, and out of it would jump a dozen or more naked prostitutes as the lights were dimmed. And the German ambassador resigned rather than preside over that dinner. “I refuse to see a pimp in the mirror in the morning when I shave.”  The criteria that you might select for being able to look at yourself in the mirror, though, may not be as straightforward as you think. Sometimes we beat ourselves up for no good reason.
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) In his book True Professionalism: The Courage to Care about Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career , author David Maister suggests that… … professionalism is predominantly an attitude, not a set of competencies…real professionalism has little, if anything to do with which business you are in, what role within that business you perform, or how many degrees you have. Rather it implies pride in work, a commitment to quality, a dedication to the interests of the client, and a sincere desire to help.[i] [i] Maister, D. (2000). True Professionalism . New York: Touchstone Press, pp. 16, 17. A professional’s primary mission is to serve society. As individuals we need two things: Integrity, and Competence. The definition of integrity. So, have we made any progress in being professional?
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) One of the ways of considering justifying your behavior involves considering the constituents to whom you owe a duty in making moral decisions or going along with decisions that have been made at a higher level that you are tasked with implementing.
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) In the field of public communication we have four main loyalties: yourself, your employer, your professional and society. Whereas some professional organizations (notably American ones) suggest that our priority loyalty is to our employer, in Canada we tend to take a more pluralistic perspective when making that determination. Your loyalty to each fo the four constituents is equal iin only an ideal world. In the real world, they have to be juggled and their relative importance will vary from one situation to another. You as a professional are tasked with weighing their relative importance. For example, we often forget that we do have a legitimate loyalty to ourselves. Sometimes this takes the form of considering your personal values and principles (finding your own line through the grey area). At other times is means considering the outcomes for yourself and by extension others who are important for you. For example, although Tommy Ross, Ivy Lee’s partner is quoted as saying that unless you are willing to give up a client or quit a job that requires you to do something that you believe is wrong, you can be considered as a member of the world’s oldest profession, sometimes it’s not that simple. If your circumstances are such that quitting is not a realistic option in the job market and you have financial responsibilities, you can use this to temper your decision and feel comfortable, you can feel comfortable that you have chosen the lesser of two evils based on yoru priorities. Does that make you unethical? Only if you can’t justify it to yourself. Pick the battles that you can win. Which leads us to a continuum of decision justifications.
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) Not all decisions can be made in an ideal way. Our priorities lead us to consider Aristotle’s Golden Mean . Aristotle was a kind of pragmatist rather than an idealist and his perspective is perhaps the most useful for us in the real world. He suggested that sensible people will choose the mean between two extremes. If you can figure out what those extremes are, you can come to a practical and realistic decision – at least in Aristotle’s view.
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) My colleague here and yours, Pierre LeCours has begun a consideration of just such an application. I’m delighted to be able to offer it to you for consideration. The ideal decision Don’t sacrifice what matters to what’s doable too soon. (Peter Block) The second-best option Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. (Voltaire) The slippery slope The most important words in politics are “up to a point” (George Will) The safest way to hell is the gradual one (C.S. Lewis) The lesser evil The problem of dirty hands (Michael Walzer) Do you imagine we can govern innocently? (Sartre) The line you won’t cross Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness Lawrence Kohlberg’s ethics decision test: I promised I’d come back to it.,…
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) In the end, is it really possible to do nothing? If you don’t’ act, is that not an action or decision in itself? At least we might consider where that decision falls on the continuum and if we are able to live with ourselves.
Ethics for Corporate Communicators (Health Canada) Much earlier in this presentation I mentioned my definition of integrity. Thomas B. Maccaulay put it this way: “ The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” This, I believe is the measure of the true professional – he or she who can do the right thing – even if no one is looking. Thanks for the opportunity.
The Ideal Professional?The Challenge of Ethics in Public Communication
The Ideal Professional?
The Challenge of Ethics in Public
Patricia J. Parsons APR, FCPRS
Professor, Department of
Mount Saint Vincent University,
Presented to Health Canada Corporate
"You must be the change you
wish to see in the world."
Definition of ethics??
• Ethics is drawing a black
line through a grey area.
Which one are you? One of…
Those who don’t care about ethics.
Those who don’t think anything
can be done anyway.
Those who wouldn’t know an
ethical dilemma if they fell over
Those who are working actively to
make some changes.
Public relations & corporate
communications are “dirty work”
They are “morally tainted.”
A professional’s primary mission is to
serve society…As individuals we need…
Loyalties in Public Communication
…a constituent to whom the public
communication professional owes a
duty and who in return places a
trust in that professional and what
he or she represents.
Four Main Loyalties for Public Communication
Aristotle’s “Golden Mean”
Step 1 To a continuum
The continuum of ethical decisions
The ideal decision
The second-best option
The slippery slope
The lesser evil
The line you won’t cross
How about doing
The only thing necessary for the
triumph of evil is for good men to
do nothing. (Edmund Burke)
“The measure of a man’s real
character is what he would
do if he knew he would never
be found out.”
Thomas B. Maccaulay