«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
Buber’s I-Thou dialogue is characterized by, "mutuality, directness, intensity, and ineffability" (Friedman, 2002 p. 65). According to Friedman (2002), the culmination of Buber’s philosophy was to explain the “sphere of between” as a basic reality of the interdependence of human existence. Buber argued that “The participation of both partners is in principle indispensable to this sphere” that he called “the dialogical” (p. 98). For Buber, the ultimate good is created when dialogue is genuine and creates “authentic existence" (p. 100). Authentic existence is discussed in the public relations literature as authenticity, and as an inherent good in moral philosophy. For its creation of genuine dialogue, and thus authenticity, public relations can be said to be inherently good.
Managing Competition and Conflict Public relations as the management of competition and conflict can be supported through the moral philosophy of justice, again with the caveat that the communicator must be honest.
Philosophers since Plato have maintained that justice is a core component of a healthy society.
Plato named justice as the most important cardinal virtue in “The Republic” along with the other cardinal virtues wisdom, courage, and temperance (Plaisance, 2009). Justice implies fairness, responsibility, and the participation of organizations and publics. Ross (2002) argued that a basic moral obligation of all humans is to bring about justice. Rawl’s (1971) well-known theory of 68 justice requires the ethical decision-maker to use what he called the “veil of ignorance” so that he or she would be stripped of social position, rank, and identity, blind to the consequences of a decision, yet potentially impacted by the decision. His theory of justice seeks to include the concepts of objectivity, impartiality, and reversibility in a less abstract and more useful, realworld model than found in prior philosophy. Benhabib (1992) and Gilligan (1982) each, separately, added perspectives of care for a generalized other to the concept of justice.
The real question in this analysis is: Do public relations practitioners consider justice when they manage competition and conflict, or do they consider only creating an advantage and achieving a self-interested win? Normatively, public relations practitioners would place themselves behind a veil of ignorance when considering their activities. The evidence (Bowen et al., 2006) suggests that only highest level decision-makers within the public relations profession actively consider concepts of justice in their decision-making, and that those at lower levels of responsibility most often consider creating advantage through persuasive advocacy.
A large part of the practice of public relations engages in managing conflict and leading change (Rawlins & Stoker, 2003). Normatively public relations professionals would consider their role in creating justice through the management of competition and conflict. In failing to create fairness or justice, practitioners do not meet the standard of inherent good. Those at higher levels of responsibility, approximately 29.8% of practitioners worldwide (Bowen et al., 2006), who report directly to CEO’s, are in a position to enhance justice, or level the playing field of competition and conflict. Normatively public relations can and should embrace that role as part of the inherent value creation and worth of the field.
Responsibility Responsibility is a foundational principle within moral philosophy, as developed by Kant and numerous other scholars. Responsibility, in moral philosophy, is often discussed in conjunction with the term duty, and the two concepts are often used interchangeably (Sullivan, 1989). Kant explained that moral law obligates each rational decision-maker equally to do their duty to uphold moral principle. Kantian scholars (Baron, 1995; Bennett, 1966; Paton, 1927;
Sullivan, 1989) discuss responsibility, accountability, attribution, and judgment as central concepts in understanding duty. Responsibility or duty is a commitment to taking the action that is right. Baron explained, “One governs one's conduct by a commitment to doing what is right and be(ing) prepared so to act even in the face of strong opposing desires” (p. 132). Duty provides the motive to act upon that which is encouraged by moral considerations. Acting from a basis of responsibility does not need to be the only consideration in a decision-making process
for public relations practitioners, but it does need to be one of them. Baron elucidated that point:
“we can value the motive of duty without placing special value on acting from duty as a primary motive” (p. 133). In public relations, it is a complex interplay between the duties required to employers, clients, publics, the media, and regulatory agencies or other governmental officials.
Acting from responsibility or duty means that the public relations practitioner must consider the duties that exists on an equal footing, without preferential treatment or bias for selfish desires, motives of greed, or fear of retribution.
A duty to do that which is morally right means that each practitioner must rationally consider all of the viewpoints as equals and decide the correct course of action based upon ethical duties that go beyond capriciousness, selfishness or other biased concerns. In this sense, public relations has inherent goodness when practitioners consider the divided loyalties that 69 come with the field and regard their responsibility as doing that which is morally right.
Preliminary research (Lieber, 2008) has “yielded tangible data that a duty to society rationale is, in fact, a part of everyday public relations” (p. 249), although we do not know how that reasoning occurs.
The nature of public relations is good only if and when practitioners ask, “Does my action have moral worth?” (Baron, 1995). That consideration does not mean that an action must be done against one's will, without regard for the self, and without regard for inclination. Self and inclination must be regarded equally along with other considerations. Baron argued that the “presence of inclination is consistent with the actions being done from duty, and thus having moral worth” (p. 152). If those in public relations consider it a duty or responsibility to do what is right in upholding moral law, not just right for a client or employer, then the field has moral worth. This weighty responsibility brings with it the obligation of veracity, or honesty and truthfulness in public relations.
Autonomy Bivins (2006) noted the link between responsibility and autonomy and argued that the role of autonomous professional presumes objectivity “to use reason to determine action” (p. 27).
Autonomy can be seen in Grunig and Hunt's (1984) definition of public relations as a management function. In that definition, management has the autonomy to determine what constitutes a morally good action, considering the interests of publics in addition to those of the organization, including profit margin. Philosophers argue that autonomy is necessary to base impartial judgment upon principle alone rather than upon selfish concerns.
The idea of autonomy stems from Immanuel Kant, who argued that moral agency rests with autonomy's basis in the ability for rational analysis which separates man from beast (Kant, 1785/1964). In explaining Kant's moral theory, Sullivan (1994) argued that each person “has the power of autonomy and therefore the right and the responsibility to be self-governing, in control of his or her own destiny in so far as that is possible” (pp. 22-23). By freeing ourselves from the constraints of only satisfying organizational goals, only creating mutually-beneficial goals, or only accommodating the needs of publics, being an autonomous and rational manager implies that public relations can do what is best based on a moral analysis alone.
Autonomy requires access to truthful and accurate information, and an honesty on behalf of the communicator. Public relations practitioners must be honest and truthful not only because deception damages an organization's reputation and diminishes relationships with publics and stakeholders, but also because honest communication is the only morally worthy way of
communicating. Day (1997) wrote:
The notion of individual autonomy is based, in part, on freedom of choice…. First, a lack of integrity in human communications undermines the autonomy of the individual. As rational beings, we depend on truthful and accurate information to make informed judgments about a whole host of activities…. a lack of veracity among advertising and public relations practitioners would understandably create a climate of public distrust of the business community. (p. 74-75) Public relations is uniquely suited to conduct an autonomous moral analysis within an organization because it maintains relationships with internal (employee) publics and external publics (outside its boundary). Those relationships allow it to know and understand the values of many varied publics around the organization, not just those limited to one organizational 70 function such as marketing understands consumers, or legal understands regulatory requirements.
Therefore, it can include those interests in organizational decision-making on an equal basis with the interests of management and finance, in a rational, responsible, and thoroughly considered deliberation about what constitutes the morally worthy action – or, what is the right thing to do.
Only a communication manager with the autonomy to stand up to the CEO or others in management and voice disagreement with a decision that may be unethical is truly contributing to the responsible and effective management of the organization.
New Factors of Ethical Public Relations As a normative pursuit, the field brings value and meaning to society through fostering collaborative decision-making, listening and appreciating while respecting others, offering information within a democratic society, creating dialogue and responsiveness, managing competition, conflict and divided loyalties through duty and responsibility, and maintaining an independent or autonomous perspective to use in the analysis of organizational decisions. Each of those factors interacts within the “sphere” of an organization in its environment, with communication flowing symmetrically to create ethically-responsible organizations.
Before an ethic of reflective management can be firmly established as a normative guide for the field based on the inherent good it pursues, we must include concepts from moral philosophy that are thought to be inherently good in and of themselves. Thus, three considerations remain to
be added to create a thorough understanding of the normative ethic of public relations practice:
ethical leadership, authenticity, and consistency. Each is discussed below, and this new model (Figure 1) is provided to conceptualize how these factors interact within an organization to create ethical public relations.
(See Figure 1) Ethical Leadership A defining factor of an organization is its leadership, especially “the power holders of the organization” (J. E. Grunig, 1992, p. 24). A corporation is socially defined by all of its constituencies (Spicer, 1997), but top executives have a unique responsibility in directing the ethical decision making of the organization (Bowen, 2002; Sriramesh, Grunig, & Buffington, 1992; Waters, 1988) because the firm exists as an entity with the legal rights of an individual, but by permission of society. Many scholars (Berger & Reber, 2006; Bowen, 2009; Goodpaster, 2007; Seeger, 1997; Sims, 1991, 1994) argued that an ethical organizational culture must begin with the leaders at the top. A stream of scholarship on ethical leadership (Cavanaugh & Moberg, 1999; Paine, 1999; Parks, 1993) has identified one key component of a successful leader to be moral courage. Cavanaugh and Moberg (1999) wrote: "Courage is demanded within every organization in order to achieve honesty and integrity" (p. 3). As the Enron debacle illustrated, the courage, attitudes, intelligence, integrity, ethics, and moral character of executives have a critical impact on the goals and mission of an organization, its values, and communication about those standards (Bowen & Heath, 2005; Goodpaster, 2007; Sims & Brinkman, 2003) with stakeholders and publics.
The leaders of an organization envision and set the tone of the organization’s ethical values system (Morgan, 2006; Seeger, 1997). Yeager and Kram (1995) termed this concept the organization’s “ethical climate” (p. 46), although there is some dispute over whether that term 71 encompasses all necessary variables, such as the moral values of leaders and founders (Dickson, Smith, Grojean, & Ehrhart, 2001). Based on its ethical climate and the values of its leadership, a corporation develops its own code of ethics specifying the moral norms of the organization. A code of ethics is potentially a powerful tool of organizational leadership and strategic decision making (Murphy, 1998).
A useful code of ethics becomes a part of organizational culture, and the organizational culture reinforces the values specified in the code of ethics. For Morgan (1986), organizational culture is "a process of reality construction that allows people to see and understand particular events, actions, objects, utterances, or situations in distinctive ways" (p. 128). Using Morgan’s definition, organizational culture would have a tremendous impact on leadership values, ethical decision making, communicating those decisions, as well as what is codified in a code of ethics.
Research on corporate leaders is diverse and considers many factors that link leadership with ethical decision making. Some of these are the personal characteristics of leaders (Howell & Avolio, 1992; Howell & Frost, 1989; Levine, 1949), the communicative dimensions of leadersubordinate relationships (Lee, 2001; Lee & Jablin, 1995), organizational structure variables (Katz & Kahn, 1966; Seeger, 1997; Shockley-Zalabak & Morley, 1994), transformational leadership (Bass, 1985; Burns & Stalker, 1961; Lee & Jablin, 1995), management styles (Burns, 1978; McGregor, 1960), moral courage (Cavanaugh & Moberg, 1999; Kidder, 2005), and individual values versus group values (Ciulla, 1998; Smircich & Calas, 1987).
Moral courage and the leadership variables mentioned above point to the fact that resolving ethical dilemmas in a morally worthy way is important to the survival of an organization.