It's Time for a Universal Code of Ethics for Public Relations

4845 Words 20 Pages
It's Time for a Universal Code of Ethics for Public Relations


Contemporary public relations is a twentieth-century phenomenon that evolved from the press gentry of the 1800s. These old-time press agents played upon the credulity of the public in its desire to be entertained, whether or not they were deceived. Advertisements and press releases were often exaggerated to the point of being complete falsifications. In promoting an attraction, press agents dropped multitudes of tickets on the newspaper editors desk along with the releases. Voluminous publicity for the attraction usually resulted, and reporters, editors, and their families flocked to the free entertainment with scant regard for any ethical constraints (Wilcox, Ault, & Agee
…show more content…
Roots such as these have created the skepticism with which the public views the field of public relations. Furthermore, it is the duty of practitioners to create positive images for businesses and organizations. Therefore, other, more recent issues have augmented Americans mistrust in the business world in general, including the Watergate Affair and the business-and-government-related scandals of the 1980s, such as the near collapse of the savings and loan industry. The American public is demanding higher ethical practices from business firms and organizations than it did in the past (Wilcox, Ault, & Agee 116).

How Public Relations Practitioners are Perceived

Despite pressure from the public, very little empirical evidence on the ethics of public relations practitioners exists. As recently as the spring of 1988, a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) task force could only uncover 16 journal articles and two books as initial readings that dealt with ethics issues in length (Pratt, "Empirical" 230).

However, one study conducted in 1989, has revealed the pathetic state of ethics in, and has called into question the credibility, professional integrity and public image of, public relations (229). In the broad field of mass communications, of which public relations practitioners are considered a part, the occupation is viewed with cynicism. For example, an investigation of journalists attitudes toward public relations, conducted in…