What is Ethics?

It is nothing but decent human behaviour, respect for fundamental human values and rights, obedience to the law of the land, and concern for health, safety and the natural environment.

What is Professional Ethics?

Each profession has its ethics. Adherence to such ethics gives rise to professionalism, which is nothing but the qualities of workmanship or service.

There are ten golden rules to being professional in service to your organisation:

  1. Always strive for excellence.
  2. Be trustworthy. Trustworthiness is about fulfilling an assigned task and not letting down expectations.
  3. Be accountable. To be responsible is to be counted for what actions you have undertaken.
  4. Be courteous and respectful.
  5. Be honest, open and transparent.
  6. Be competent and improve continually. Competence is a combination of knowledge, skills and behaviour used to improve performance.
  7. Always be ethical, which means acting within specific moral codes or generally accepted principles of conduct.
  8. Always act with honesty and integrity.
  9. Be respectful of confidentiality. Confidentiality is respecting the rules or promises that restrict you from further and unauthorised dissemination of information.
  10. Set good examples: You must show and lead by a good example.

PR and Ethics:

Ethics is also part and parcel of PR. There are two aspects of Ethics in PR, one is moral, and the other is legal. On the ethical side are the values and beliefs, and norms; on the other hand, the legal side demands respect for the law of the land relating to the dissemination of information.

Some legal aspects:

Defamation -In India, defamation can be a civil and criminal offence. The difference between the two lies in the objects they seek to achieve through redressal. While a civil wrong generally awards compensation, criminal law seeks to punish a  wrongdoer. In Indian laws, criminal defamation has been defined as an offence under the Indian Penal Code  (IPC). In contrast, civil defamation is based on tort law, mainly on case laws or precedents. Moreover, in a criminal case, defamation has to be established beyond a reasonable doubt, but damages can be awarded based on probabilities in a civil defamation suit. Section 499 of the IPC defines what amounts to criminal defamation by words – spoken or intended to be read, through signs and visible representations. Section 500 stipulates imprisonment of up to two years, with or without a fine, for someone held guilty of criminal defamation. However,  criminal defamation is a compoundable offence, and parties can seek closure of the case by reaching a  compromise. Defamation as a civil wrong work can take two forms – libel (by writings) and slander (by spoken words). To establish that a particular statement –  written or spoken – is defamatory, it must be proved that it is false, has been published and thus has lowered the reputation of a specific person or an identifiable set of people in the eyes of the general public. A civil suit can be filed before a district or a high court,  depending on the quantum of damages sought by the complainant. While instituting a civil case, a person may also demand a prohibition against further publication of allegedly defamatory material. The primary defences to an action for defamation are justification, privilege, fair comment, and innocent dissemination. ( exceptions: Parliament, Courts, News  Paper Review, etc.)

  1. Intellectual Property Rights-IPR is divided into two categories: industrial property, which includes inventions( patents), trademarks, industrial designs, and geographical indications of source and copyright, including literary and artistic works and rights of performing artists. The copyright law in India is embodied in the Copyright Act 1957. A PR person has to take care while reproducing any matter and that it is fair and for a legitimate purpose. Trade Marks Act, 1999,  The Patent Act, 2005, Designs Act, 2000. The  Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and  Protection) Act, 1999, The Protection of Plants &  Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001, and The  Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
  2. Privacy Rights-The violation of privacy rights can be claimed on three grounds-one when there is an intrusion of or invasion of a person's private affairs, two, when disclosure of private facts become embarrassing and places that person in a bad light, three, and intrusion can occur by mistakes when someone's photograph is used for someone else in an uncomplimentary manner. A citizen's right to privacy is guaranteed under Article 21 of the  Constitution. The Department of Personnel and Training prepared a draft bill on the right to privacy in 2011. The need for stand-alone privacy legislation was felt in the wake of the leak of the Nira Radia tapes in 2010, raising severe threats and concerns over individuals' privacy and protection. After this infamous leak, Mr Ratan Tata, the then Chairman of the Tata Group, approached the Supreme Court for a  violation of the fundamental right to privacy. To effectively address the privacy issues, the Planning  Commission of India directed the constitution of a 'Group of Experts' on December 26, 2011, to identify the privacy issues and prepare a report on the same to facilitate the authoring of a privacy bill for India. The Group was constituted under the Chairmanship of Justice A.P.  Shah, Former Chief Justice, High Court of Delhi. The  Privacy (Protection) Bill, 2013, does not define "privacy"; however, it focuses on protecting personal and sensitive personal data of persons.

Ethical Codes in PR:

Ethical behaviour goes beyond just observance of the law and requires following ethical behaviour touching the moral side.

International Public Relations developed a code in Athens in  1965. It was further modified and improved in 1968, updated in 2006 and is now known as the Code of Brussels. The code of Brussels, 2006, specifies the conditions for the ethical practice of public relations worldwide. The Brussels  Code, accepted globally, touches upon a few aspects of conduct in handling public relations.

1. Integrity: Act with honesty and integrity at all times to secure the confidence of those with whom the PR practitioner contacts.

2. Transparency: Be open and transparent in your interest and intent.

3. Dialogue: Establish the moral, psychological, and intellectual conditions for dialogue, and recognise the rights of all parties to get involved in the process.

4. Accuracy: Ensure all steps to provide truth and accuracy of all information provided to public authorities.

5. Falsehood: Don't disseminate falsehood or misleading information; if done unintentionally, correct it promptly.

6. Deception: Don't obtain information from public authorities by deceptive means.

7. Confidentiality: Honour confidential information provided to you.

8. Influence: Don't create improper influence on public authorities.

9. Inducement: Don't offer direct or indirect financial or other inducements to members of public authorities.

10. Conflict: Avoid professional conflicts of interest and disclose such conflicts to affected parties if they occur.

11. Profit: Don't sell for profit copies of documents obtained from public authorities.

12. Employment: Only employ personnel from public authorities subject to those authorities' rules and confidentiality requirements.

Public Relations Society Of India:

The Public Relations Society of India (PRSI) is the national association of public relations practitioners and communication specialists in India.

1. It functions primarily for the professional development of PR  Personnel.

2. It also maintains close links with the academic bodies for promoting public relations as a subject of management studies.

3. PRSI became an informal body in 1958, with its headquarters in Mumbai.

4. This was formally merged into a national body in 1968 to strengthen the public relations movement on an all-India basis.

5. The National Council, the apex body of the PRSI,  annually organises 'All India Public Relations Conferences' to highlight its contemporary relevance.

6. It has a quarterly journal, 'Public Relations, ' which seeks to promote the causes of public relations.

7. The Society has 30 chapters spread all over the country. Members of the Society, numbering over 3000, are drawn from the private sector and public sector corporations as well as from the government, non-profit organisations and academic bodies.

In India, the Public Relations Society of India, at its 1st National  Conference in New Delhi on 21-4-1968, adopted the  International Code of Ethics:

Advertising Standards Council of India(ASCI) is an agency that seeks to ensure that the advertising profession conforms to its code of self-regulation, which requires the advertisements to be truthful and fair to the consumers and competitors.

Public relations are not just about managing crises but also about building relationships with stakeholders. Companies must be aware of their environment to stay ethical in their business practices.

Hence, The ethical approach to PR is becoming more critical as the world becomes more polarised.

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