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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Nonetheless, CSR is increasingly running the risk of becoming a vague, abstract buzzword, rather than a clearly measurable criterion (cf. Rawlins 2005: 214f). Frankental (2001) underscores this danger in his argument that “CSR is a vague and intangible term, which can mean anything to anybody, and therefore is without meaning.” Consequently, a common understanding of the term “CSR”, as well as standardization the measurement of CSR activities, is necessary to guarantee ethical correctness. In view of these requirements, a “triple bottom line” can function as a starting point, whereby companies publish their economic, environmental and social responsibility outcomes (cf. Henriques & Richardson 2004: 214).

Functional context The functional context describes the target content, whether it be directly conveyed in a certain cultural context or whether it needs to be transmitted through several interim steps (cf. Sievert 2009: 13). The work of Geert Hofstede (2001) serves as an excellent starting point for analyzing the cultural context of the selected countries. In his work, he developed four cultural dimensions (and subsequently a fifth one), which differ from country to country.

704 The fifth criteria (“long-term vs. short-term orientation”; (cf. Hopper et al. 2007: 98) is the most important one for ethical questions of PR. For example, the above-mentioned German discussion as to whether PR has a “licence to lie” would be answered very differently from a long-term than from a short-term perspective. Additionally, concerns such as reputation building, customer trust and reliability (classical motivators for ethical behaviour within the field of PR) function primarily on a long-term perspective.

While the first four dimensions are covered by the research of Hofstede and are presented under www.geert-hofstede.com/geert_hofstede_resources.shtml, the last dimension is not available for all the investigated countries by Hofstede, due to the fact that the dimension ‘long-term vs. short term orientation’ was introduced subsequently to the original study (cf. Hopper et al. 2007: 98).

Therefore, in order to ensure a consistent and reliable comparison, the current ‘saving ratio’ of the different countries is used to investigate the long- or short-term orientation of the societies.

This is not without problems; but other ideas on this item are very welcome.

Within this dimension, it must be anticipated that overall European and Anglo-American countries, have traditionally registered a short-term orientation in systematic global comparisons (cf.

Lussier 2009: 392). Nonetheless, in this differentiation, France and Germany, both with a saving ratio of over 10 per cent, show a slightly stronger long-term orientation (cf. Finanz.Geld Finanznachrichten 2008), while Denmark, with -3%, has a clearer orientation towards short term planning (cf. Statista 2006). The United Kingdom, with 1%, and Poland, with 4%, are situated in the middle (cf. Kollewe 2008, Statista1 2006).

As shown in the previous paragraph, the planning horizon in the countries differs. While France and Germany have a more long-term orientation, Denmark has, when measured on the basis of the average Danish saving ratio, a more short-term orientation. United Kingdom and Poland are located between these poles.

In comparison to this, a society that ranks low from the point of view of ‘long-term orientation’ places emphasis on short-term results, and on the importance of rapid need-gratification (cf.

Samovar et al. 2009: 207). Therefore, it must taken into consideration from a ethical standpoint that in a short-term oriented country, the domination of short-term results can lead to disadvantages in the long run, which can stay in contrast to the CSR orientation, as discussed before (cf.

Samli 2008: 115 and Riahi-Belkaoui 1995: 79).

Role context

Finally, in the role context, the target actors in the chosen countries must be reconsidered. Due to the fact that communication actors work in manifold disciplines and professions, the last part is primarily focused on journalism, an area in which a cross-border comparison is applicable (cf.

Sievert 2009: 15). In this connection, David H. Weaver’s book ‘the global journalist’ (1998), in which he analyzes 21 countries with regard to their journalistic proficiency and formulates various features and attributes which can be fulfilled to a higher or lesser extent, can serve as a basis of such a comparison.


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The United Kingdom and Poland both register a result of 56% in response to this particular criterion, ‘being a watchdog of the government’ (cf. Weaver 1998 and Sievert 1998). 43 per cent of the Danish journalists and 40 per cent of the French journalists perceive this element as important (cf. Hovden et al. 2009: 161 and Sievert 1998). German correspondents ‘only’ value this remark with 33 per cent (cf. Weaver 1998). A sum-up of the results can be found in Table 4.

This, together with some other items, offers interesting insights in the moral mindset of journalists. The aspect of ‘being a watchdog of the government’, in particular, is ideal for a further ethical examination, due to the fact that it can (mis)used for serious investigations for the public good as well as for prurient and transitory interests (cf. Preston 2003: 104). All the investigated countries consider this attribute to be of medium importance. This may in part be attributed to a fear of being accused to be partisan or biased. Ellen Debenport, St. Petersburg Times political editor, has placed particular emphasis on this point: “They tell us they want analysis, background, interpretation, and when we do that and it’s not entirely in keeping with their view of the world, they say we’re biased” (Katz 1993: 26). Therefore, one way of avoiding ethical issues concerning the objectivity of journalists would be a definitional shift from ‘objective’ towards ‘fair’ or ‘honest’, as happened in the statutes of the Society of Professional Journalists in 1996 (cf. Smith 2003: 78).

Summary and perspective Putting all these results together, we get at least one indicator, per level, for the ethical understanding of PR in these different countries. The authors have tried to collate the results in Table 1 on this page. According to this very first analysis, we can see that Poland is the only country where a lot of development in the realization of PR ethics in practice still needs to be done. All other analyzed countries already have quite well-established ethical frameworks in the various contexts of their PR subsystem.

Table 1: Indicators für Ethical Standards in PR based on different ICC levels But it should also be noted that each of the countries has it own particular ‘blind spot’: German journalists are less likely, for example, to ascribe to themselves a ‘critical’ role compared to their counterparts in other EU countries; in France the qualification of PR professionals, including on ethical issues, needs to be improved; in the UK, despite some problematic development before the world financial crises, we encounter a highly professionalized industry, whose actors adhere to high professional standards on ethical issues. Meanwhile, In Denmark, the only “negative” point is currently a short-term orientation in the cultural framework, an orientation which will probably align itself with European standards in the wake of the current economic crisis.


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Once again, it should be emphasized that this analysis is a heuristic one. The authors do not consider this a complete or fully appropriate description of the PR ethical situation in the five countries analyzed. But we strongly believe that a differentiated approach, such as the one that had been chosen here for the ethical aspect, does indeed represent the only correct approach. If we discuss ethical questions on a purely theoretical level without taking contexts into accout, we shouldn’t be surprised if people don’t follow. If we look at it in real life and with particular focus on the overall function of PR to society, we have a chance to get our message through.



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