Taking a stand on ethics

This morning, I left a lengthy comment on Jay Rosen’s blog in his Bloggers Are Missing in Action… post on ethics in PR that generated lots of blog posts and comments on posts yesterday (go to Rosen’s post to see the many comments there, and see my post yesterday for a recap on what this is all about).

In my comment to Rosen’s post, I said:

[…] What surprises and disappoints me is the absolute lack of meaningful comment from any of the professional associations. The PRSA or IABC, for instance (I don’t count as ‘meaningful’ any statement made so far by the PRSA). Organizations like these are the "ethical glue" that binds the profession together (yes, a bit like The Force) to provide a framework for how people in the profession behave professionally. As with any grouping of people, there will be bad apples, in which case it is one of the profession’s responsibilities to weed them out.

I’ve already been accused of being naive with such an opinion (which is fine: I blog, so I have a thick skin), but if our professional associations don’t take a clear stand on behaviours that run counter to the codes of ethics those associations stand by, why should anyone else? Indeed, what’s the point of ethics codes if some don’t abide by them – and then get away with it. Worse, they’re clearly seen as getting away with it.

I’ve been a member of IABC for over 15 years. I will continue to be a member and a highly committed one at that. Each year when I renew my membership, I have to re-affirm my commitment to IABC’s code of ethics – which, in my view, is a benchmark standard. I actually do read it each time. (Which also makes me wonder – is anyone at Ketchum an IABC member? I haven’t checked but, if so, how does what the people concerned did gel with IABC’s code?)

What I want to see, and very soon, is a clear stand by my professional association on this ethical issue.

Also this morning, I read Jeremy Pepper’s post late yesterday on this sorry affair.

In his post, Jeremy says:

[…] As already noted, PRSA put out a tepid response against Ketchum, the Council of PR firms defended Ketchum … and IABC said nothing. These are the three biggest PR associations, but they are not doing it for PR.

Now, IABC is just suprising. The chairman of IABC, David Kistle, has a blog. The Ketchum story broke two weeks ago in USA Today, but Kistle’s most recent blog post reads like a church newsletter. We have new accredited PR people! We’re doing a webinar! Aren’t we neat!

The chairman of IABC has a venue, a forum to speak out on industry issues. Why didn’t he use that venue to speak out against the first big issue affecting public relations in 2005?

It’s a good question, Jeremy. Perhaps this post on Wednesday in the Business Week Tech Beat blog might lead to an answer.

3 thoughts on “Taking a stand on ethics

  1. Thanks. Colby.
    David Weinberger’s points are indeed thoughtful. His qualifier on someone not commenting is a good one, I believe:
    “[…] Maybe you had nothing to say, maybe you’re on a plane, maybe you just don’t feel like it, maybe you’re feeling too confused or too sick at heart. Even so, the blank blog is staring back at you.”
    And re his conclusion –
    “Blogs call forth moral presence.”
    – I’m not sure whether many in the PR business would, from a practical viewpoint, see blogs that way, though.

  2. Just reading through some other posts on David Weinberger’s blog, I came across these comments he made a week or so ago (nothing at all directly related to this issue):
    “[…] Codes of ethics are great for professionals. For the rest of us (even professionals in their off hours), our lack of explicit, codified sets of ethical principles governing our every activity doesn’t mean we’re unethical. It just means we humans generally do what’s right and resort to ethical discussions when we go wrong or get confused.”
    He has a point.

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