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September 23, 2010

PRSA Advises Against “Looking the Other Way” in Unethical Situations

NEW YORK (Sept. 23, 2010) — As part of its commemoration of “Ethics Month,” the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is reminding its members and other public relations professionals not to ignore willfully unethical behavior in the workplace.

In a Professional Standards Advisory (PSA) — a periodic update to PRSA’s Code of Ethics, intended to keep the code current with evolving technology and changing social and professional mores — PRSA defines the reasons why allowing unethical behavior to continue unchallenged is improper. PRSA also encourages practitioners to weigh carefully the potential ramifications of looking the other way on all parties involved.

“In many professions, ‘codes of silence’ have developed and ‘willful blindness’ is being exercised,” says Thomas Eppes, APR, Fellow PRSA, chair of PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), the independent body that created and maintains the PRSA Code of Ethics. “In public relations, the ‘gray wall’ involves intentionally ignoring actions, behaviors, decisions, strategies and advice that is inappropriate, unethical or potentially unlawful.”

When questionable behavior occurs, public relations and other communications practitioners may fail to sound an alarm for reasons ranging from fear to self-consciousness to wanting to keep the boss or client happy.

“’It’s not my concern’ is not a justifiable defense for keeping unethical behavior to yourself,” Eppes notes. “Senior professionals must encourage their employees to take affirmative steps to remedy or remediate unethical situations.”

To sustain ethical practice, PRSA presents ways that professionals can confront and manage unethical situations. Its advice ranges from the practical — “when you see something, say something” — to establishing formal compliance standards and procedures with which employees, independent contractors, vendors and others can reasonably comply.

“When faced with ethically questionable behaviors, public relations professionals should ask ethically relevant questions, such as, ‘What did they know, and when did they know it?’ and ‘How could this have been avoided?’” advises Eppes.

The current PSA is the 15th update to PRSA’s Code of Ethics that BEPS has issued since the code, originally drafted in 1950, was updated in 2000. While the code applies solely to PRSA members, it has come to be widely regarded as the public relations industry’s de facto guide to ethical conduct.

About the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
With more than 31,000 members, PRSA is the largest organization of public relations professionals and students. PRSA is comprised of 111 local Chapters organized into 10 geographic Districts; 16 Professional Interest Sections that focus on issues, trends and research relevant to specialized practice areas, such as technology, health care, financial communications, entertainment and sports, and travel tourism; and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), which has more than 300 Chapters at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. PRSA is headquartered in New York.


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