Sesame Street Cracked the Code (of Ethics)
Some people might consider my generation as jaded. A lot of us are skeptics and are quick to question motives from any entity, whether it be the media, or even a friend. When discussing professional codes of ethics, the first place my thoughts travel to is Sesame Street. Doing good, being honest, and being yourself (which would be equated with independence in the professional world), are alive and well on that show. Here is a video of their morals in action:
Wasn’t that lovely? In reality, no company can be as squeaky clean as big bird but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Companies and organizations make codes of ethics to give themselves a moral compass. After analyzing the different codes of ethics in the advertising and public relations world, you can’t help but think, “Geez, is all of this necessary, can’t they just do right?” In public relations and advertising, the answers aren’t always clear and distinctive yes’s and no’s. Having an ethical road map can help guide a company in making those tough decisions. Many organizations operate under a strict code of ethics but they aren’t without their differences. Here are a few difference that I thought were worth discussing.
Honesty, a topic covered in many, if not all, codes of ethics, is positioned in many different ways. After comparing the different public relations and advertising codes of ethics, what stood out to me the most was IABC’s word choice when describing honesty. The word “refrain” was used when describing the act of avoiding unethical communicators. In a code of ethics, I don’t believe in using words like “refrain,” and “avoid” because those words have a negative connotation. Statements using those words are limiting and for a code of ethics, that shouldn’t be the case. I believe a code of ethics shouldn’t be a like a list a rules hanging on a 5th graders classroom chalkboard. A code of ethics should be a living document that adapts to different situations an organization faces.
Concerning honesty, IABC goes on to say,“be honest not only with others but also, and most importantly, with yourselves as individuals. Seek the truth and speak that truth first to yourself.” I think they may have taken a chapter out of the Sesame Street song. Many employees adhere to an organizational code of ethics and forget about their own. What the organization may see as ethical, you may not. It’s important to keep your own personal ethics intact when working in an organization.
I was a little surprised to see independence wasn’t discussed by the Arthur Page Society, Council of PR Firms, Global Alliance, and the IABC. Only NIRI and PRSA touch on independence. What that tells me is some organizations are weary of instilling the idea of independence in their employees. With the concept of independence comes autonomy and for some organizations, they feel that is dangerous. Some organizations don't trust their employees self morals and values. I feel the issue of independence should always be addressed because people are unique and are their own person.
Free Flow of Information
I unwaveringly feel all codes of ethics should touch on the concept of free flow of information. This issue is constantly dealt with in the media on a daily basis. Companies and organizations have destroyed themselves by omitting information. One thing that has been drilled into my brain about the media is that nothing is hidden forever. Skeletons are found in every closet of the dishonest. It’s only a matter of time before those secrets are revealed.
My Favorite Code (I bet you could guess)
Of all the codes of ethics, I believe in the PRSA code of ethics the most. It may be because I have close to 30 copies of it laying around in my apartment, but I do believe it is the most comprehensive and all encompassing code of ethics out there for PR professionals. The public relations field is constantly scrutinized for unethical behavior. Quite frankly, it sucks. Many people believe PRSA has the most comprehensive code of ethics because we need it the most. I believe we have it for ourselves and for the public. We say a lot in class, “If the public has a problem, you have a problem.” In this case, we know we act by a code of ethics, with the PRSA code of ethics available to everyone, now the public knows too.