A new call for ethics in PR

PR Week reports on a call to action by the newly-appointed president of the International Communications Consultancy Organization, Fleishman-Hillard executive V-P John Saunders:

Following on from an impassioned speech at last week’s Prague global summit, where his presidency was announced, he told PRWeek: ‘This is no longer the golden age of PR. We will need to change to get to where we want to be in the future.’ […] He said PR should be about more than just business: ‘We need to devote more energy to ethics. If we are to advise on reputation management, we must be above reproach.’

Current codes of conduct – such as ICCO’s Stockholm charter and the PRCA-devised Consultancy Management Standard – were not enough, he added. He compared PR with industries such as accountancy, which are answerable for the information they relay: ‘We need to impose more rigorous standards on ourselves, before they are imposed on us by others.’

Well said.

I’ve posted it before and I’ll post it again – IABC’s code of ethics which I believe is a model for the whole profession:

IABC Code of Ethics


Because hundreds of thousands of business communicators worldwide engage in activities that affect the lives of millions of people, and because this power carries with it significant social responsibilities, the International Association of Business Communicators developed the Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators.

The Code is based on three different yet interrelated principles of professional communication that apply throughout the world.

These principles assume that just societies are governed by a profound respect for human rights and the rule of law; that ethics, the criteria for determining what is right and wrong, can be agreed upon by members of an organization; and, that understanding matters of taste requires sensitivity to cultural norms.

These principles are essential:

– Professional communication is legal.
– Professional communication is ethical.
– Professional communication is in good taste.

Recognizing these principles, members of IABC will:

  • engage in communication that is not only legal but also ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs;
  • engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding; and,
  • adhere to the following articles of the IABC Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators.

Because conditions in the world are constantly changing, members of IABC will work to improve their individual competence and to increase the body of knowledge in the field with research and education.


1. Professional communicators uphold the credibility and dignity of their profession by practicing honest, candid and timely communication and by fostering the free flow of essential information in accord with the public interest.

2. Professional communicators disseminate accurate information and promptly correct any erroneous communication for which they may be responsible.

3. Professional communicators understand and support the principles of free speech, freedom of assembly, and access to an open marketplace of ideas; and, act accordingly.

4. Professional communicators are sensitive to cultural values and beliefs and engage in fair and balanced communication activities that foster and encourage mutual understanding.

5. Professional communicators refrain from taking part in any undertaking which the communicator considers to be unethical.

6. Professional communicators obey laws and public policies governing their professional activities and are sensitive to the spirit of all laws and regulations and, should any law or public policy be violated, for whatever reason, act promptly to correct the situation.

7. Professional communicators give credit for unique expressions borrowed from others and identify the sources and purposes of all information disseminated to the public.

8. Professional communicators protect confidential information and, at the same time, comply with all legal requirements for the disclosure of information affecting the welfare of others.

9. Professional communicators do not use confidential information gained as a result of professional activities for personal benefit and do not represent conflicting or competing interests without written consent of those involved.

10. Professional communicators do not accept undisclosed gifts or payments for professional services from anyone other than a client or employer.

11. Professional communicators do not guarantee results that are beyond the power of the practitioner to deliver.

12. Professional communicators are honest not only with others but also, and most importantly, with themselves as individuals; for a professional communicator seeks the truth and speaks that truth first to the self.

Enforcement and Communication of the IABC Code for Professional Communicators

IABC fosters compliance with its Code by engaging in global communication campaigns rather than through negative sanctions. However, in keeping with the sixth article of the IABC Code, members of IABC who are found guilty by an appropriate governmental agency or judicial body of violating laws and public policies governing their professional activities may have their membership terminated by the IABC executive board following procedures set forth in the association’s bylaws.

IABC encourages the widest possible communication about its Code.

The IABC Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators is published in several languages and is freely available to all: Permission is hereby granted to any individual or organization wishing to copy and incorporate all or part of the IABC Code into personal and corporate codes, with the understanding that appropriate credit be given to IABC in any publication of such codes.

The IABC Code is published in the association’s annual directory, The WorldBook of IABC Communicators. The association’s monthly magazine, Communication World, publishes periodic articles dealing with ethical issues. At least one session at the association’s annual conference is devoted to ethics. The international headquarters of IABC, through its professional development activities, encourages and supports efforts by IABC student chapters, professional chapters, and districts/regions to conduct meetings and workshops devoted to the topic of ethics and the IABC Code. New and renewing members of IABC sign the following statement as part of their application: “I have reviewed and understand the IABC Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators.”

As a service to communicators worldwide, inquiries about ethics and questions or comments about the IABC Code may be addressed to members of the IABC Ethics Committee. The IABC Ethics Committee is composed of at least three accredited members of IABC who serve staggered three-year terms. Other IABC members may serve on the committee with the approval of the IABC executive committee. The functions of the Ethics Committee are to assist with professional development activities dealing with ethics and to offer advice and assistance to individual communicators regarding specific ethical situations.

While discretion will be used in handling all inquiries about ethics, absolute confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. Those wishing more information about the IABC Code or specific advice about ethics are encouraged to contact IABC World Headquarters (One Hallidie Plaza, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94102 USA; phone, +1 415 544 4700; fax, +1 415 544 4747).

[Source: http://www.iabc.com/about/code.htm]

3 thoughts on “A new call for ethics in PR

  1. “The IABC Code is published in the association’s annual directory, The WorldBook of IABC Communicators….”
    Obviously this part needs to be updated, as a print copy (i.e., “an annual directory”) hasn’t been produced/distributed in quite a few years.

  2. You’re absolutely right, Judy. Therefore this text hasn’t been changed since the last printed Worldbook. That was in 2000, if I recall correctly.
    Which also indicates the longevity/sustainability of the code.

  3. Ethics in public relations

    As long as I have practised professional public relations I have been a
    member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and have always
    abided by its Professional Code of Conduct (can’t provide a direct link as the CIPR site uses frames).

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