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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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Importantly, both American and European educators were concerned with evaluation of student learning, saying that they might be able to evaluate students’ performances in class, but they are not able to predict what framework graduates choose in the practice public relations and personal lives.

The specifics of the system of higher education in the U.S. and Europe led to the situation in which American PR educators feel obligated to help the industry thrive, while European educators distance themselves from the industry seeing universities as autonomous enterprises that are not “accepting orders” from practitioners. Accordingly, approaches in teaching ethics differ in the U.S.

and Europe. While American teachers believe that good examples are able to induce moral behavior (Pratt, 1991), Europeans educators tend to focus on negative cases. One of the explanations of such a strategy of European teachers is the fact that 85% of PR practice is asymmetrical (press agentry, public information, the two-way asymmetrical model) (Nessmann, 1995). Moreover, Benson (2008) appealed to PR professionals and educators to set “realistic ground rules” and “abandon an ethical and intellectual project that suffers from a real ‘legitimation’ crisis” (p. 18).

While analyzing a number of public relations cross-national research projects, Nessmann (1995) said that these studies showed a great impact of culture on practical PR. In regard to a crosscultural comparison, the present study found that in the same manner as PR practices reflect national specifics of the countries in which pubic relations activities take place, PR educational philosophies reflect national PR practices and broader societal contexts. Thus, the teaching philosophies might diverge, and in some cases, quite sharply. It means that there might not be an opportunity to generalize educational practices even within Europe (Vercic, van Ruler, Butschi, & Flodin, 2001;

Nessmann, 1995), needless to say, in the global scope. However, an attempt to uncover similarities among national PR practices continue to attract scholars’ attention (Vercic et al., 2001), and there is a hope that a research interest on educational practices will be increased as well.

Finally, it is important to underline that a leitmotiv of qualitative interviews was that universities as advanced academic communities should perform a dual service to society: to disseminate knowledge and provide guidance for the responsible use of knowledge.


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As the largest country in South America with the eighth largest economy in the world, Brazil merits attention in the practice of public relations. As the first country to license public relations as a legalized profession since 1967, it provides a research terrain for the effect of licensing on ethical behavior, credibility and the role of public relations as the conscience of an organization.

The debate of licensing has persisted in the United States, as well as on a global scale— especially with globalization and integration of communication fields. Codes of ethics are difficult to enforce; therefore, organizations in the United States only suggest ethical conduct accompanied by blurred definitions of public relations. In contrast, public relations is a defined legal profession in Brazil. In fact, in order to practice as a licensed professional a practitioner must have a degree in public relations and qualify for a license from a state’s regional council (Molleda, Athaydes, 2003).

Some arguments for licensing of public relations include defining public relations, unifying the profession and educational system, establishing credibility and identifying standards and values.

In contrast, arguments against licensing include challenging first amendment rights, lacking power to enforce and experiencing restrictions of creativity from enforcement. Does the licensing in Brazil put public relations professionals in a management function, and therefore, the position as the conscience or ethical counsel of an organization? Does licensing increase ethics by creating a “universal” standard of conduct and a clear definition of public relations? In a survey conducted by Brazilian communication association Aberje, communicators occupy more of a management role of strategic planning and ethical counseling as opposed to a technician role in Brazil (Nassar, P., Furlanetto, M., Figueiredo & Figueiredo, S. 2008). What are the ethical standards and dilemmas faced by public relations professionals in Brazil? Through interviews with professionals working in the area of public relations in Brazil, I have developed direction to answer these questions of ethics, licensing and management conscience roles regarding public relations.

Brazil serves as a testing zone, where public relations practitioners can learn about the ethical effects of a licensed profession. From a review of research about ethics codes in Brazil, little has been contributed to the field. This study expands the concept of public relations licensing addressed almost exclusively by Molleda and Athaydes (2003) to include ethical implications. The qualitative data will further the field of public relations through insights about licensing, ethical behavior and cultural influence of public relations in a globalizing world of social media and integrated communications.

Literature Review Ethics vs. Culture Most published literature focus on ethics or public relations in Brazil, and few articles combine the aspects of ethics, licensing and public relation. Through an exploration of ethics in a country with a different system of public relations, we can test the possibility and functionality of a global code of ethics in the field of public relations. A universal code of ethics is challenged by the relative nature of national, local and personal cultures coupled by the unenforceability of such codes.

National culture affects ethics. “As business organizations move from domestic to global and transnational competition, they are finding that cultural values vary significantly across national boundaries, and are likely to affect business practice,” said Beekun, Stedham & Yamamura (2003, p.


With the increased globalization of business, the effect of culture on ethics has become a subject demanding attention. To this point, relatively few studies analyze the relation between ethics and culture in Brazil. Culture is such a broad concept that in order to study it specific values need to be defined. In Beekun’s survey of 126 Brazilian and U.S. professionals, he used the well-established framework of national culture established by Hoftstede. His cultural dimensions include individualism and collectivism. The greatest cultural difference appears in this particular dimension (Beekun, Stedham & Yamamura, 2003). Egoism is more dominant in individualistic cultures, and the 322 utilitarianism ethical philosophy is used to make ethical decisions in collective cultures, such as Brazil. Brazil is a collectivistic culture focusing more on actions that lead to the greatest benefit for the most members of a group. One of the greatest challenges in researching ethics is attaining truthful responses instead of what people view as more acceptable responses.

Each country has different laws that guide actions of organizations; however, ethics requires an even higher standard. While countries adhere to different laws, could they agree on similar standards of ethics?

Global ethics is not always a question of a country’s values being right or wrong, or better or worse than another’s (El-Astal, 2005). If ethics just included right or wrong, as the term is most commonly defined, then a universal code could be possible. However, El-Astal explained, “It is not possible to go from principle to practice because our day-to-day practice is based somehow on our cultural heritage, local customs and circumstances. Not all countries define phrases like ‘fair dealing’ in the same way.” Codes provide guidance, but to this point have not been enforced, nor should be, according to many scholars (Fitzpatrick, 2002). In the United States, the Public Relations Society of America created a code in 1959 based on enforcement. However, through a series of changes to the code, it now serves as a mere guideline. Although the code is not enforceable, nor do all public relations practitioners follow the code, the suggested guidelines approach may prove to lead to more ethical behavior than strict rules that professionals steer around.

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