Public relations, like most other forms of human activity, can be measured in moral terms. PR practitioners have a responsibility to society to maintain certain ethical standards since their work is capable of influencing others. However, ethical considerations of public relations are not easily decided.
Since the business is young in comparison with other professions, there is no universally acknowledged code of ethics for PR practitioners. Instead, professional societies have their own codes that accredited members are expected to follow. In the United States, we have the Public Relations Society of America. Most other countries have similar professional societies that expect members to follow a code of ethics.
Public relations is not a fully organized and controlled business, so it is easy for anyone to set up a practice. Therefore, practitioners accredited by the Pubic Relations Society of America, or other reputable societies will be trusted as professionals more than those who are not accredited.
Most ethical questions in public relations fall under four categories:
Social responsibility basically means not practicing anything that goes against the best interest of the general of the public. It includes not condoning these practices when done by a client or employer. If you are hired to promote something that is damaging to the public, environment, etc, it would be against the public interest to accept the offer. Pretty simple really.
The PR practitioner's relationship with a client or employer must be based on honesty and trust. The practitioner should be sure that he is representing who or what he thinks he is. So remember: don't represent a front organization. Make sure the information you are being paid to tell is honest and true. You must also be loyal to your client. Do not represent two clients or organizations of conflicting interests without them knowing about it and approving it. Basically, the TRUTH anti-smoking organization and Philip Morris are probably not going to want to share a PR firm.
A PR practitioner's relationship with the media can often be an unpleasant one. Journalists are sick and tired of getting press releases that are obviously just trying to promote a client and have absolutely no news value. Give the journalists news that they need and maybe they will be your friends. Do not lie to them and give them false information. If they find out, they will hunt you down. The information you give them should be in the public interest. We all know journalists are grumpy. Keep them happy and you can develop a mutually beneficial relationship.
Finally, develop a good relationship with fellow PR practitioners. It is unethical to steal other practitioners' clients or damage their reputations. Remember, PR practitioners have a bad enough reputation as it is. Make friends with your colleagues because you might end up working with them someday