When faced with an ethical dilemma, public relations professionals ultimately have four choices available to them: avoidance, compliance, ignorance and resignation.
photo credit: The Co-operative
The most ethical choice can sometimes be to avoid answering a question. If you are faced with a question that would require you to make a difficult ethical decision, keep in mind that you should not force yourself into an ethical dilemma unless you really must.
When asked by a principal to engage in an activity that is unethical some public relations professionals, especially those who are young, will simply comply out of loyalty. This is always a poor choice that will typically lead to the destruction of one’s reputation, if not worse.
Traditional public relations practices have called for professionals learning as much as they could about a principal, particularly whenever they are faced with an ethical crisis. In some cases the most appropriate and ethical course of action would be to not ask questions during an ongoing crisis. Remember that public relations specialists are not entitled to attorney-client privilege. As a result, you can find yourself facing serious legal difficulties if you become caught up in a legal investigation and then you are forced to reveal secrets that would violate your duty of loyalty to your principal. This is precisely why some public relations practitioners choose to avoid asking difficult questions. In this case, ignorance can be used as an effective shield of protection.
Some ethics experts will contend that whenever a professional is not able to fulfill his duty to his principal and his duty to society at the same time, there is simply no other choice but to resign. Resigning on principle is rather rare today; generally because it is not that easy to simply walk away from a job. And when an employee resigns on principle there is a clear message sent that his or her employer is engaging in unethical practices. Sending such a message, even unintentionally, can be dangerously close to violating your responsibilities to your employer.
Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Section 13.5 Ethical Choices.
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