Anyone who works in public relations knows that ethics are a big gray area of the industry. PRSA has a code of ethics for its members. Like many codes of ethics though, it is just vague enough to not be cause for concern among the less scrupulous members of the profession. There is not an industry standard as far as rules and consequences are concerned.
There are plenty of other industries that have vague codes of ethics, but a vague ethics code isn’t a problem for most industries. The engineers code of ethics probably is not the most clear code available, but who is asking? Public relations tends to run into ethic trouble with the generally public a lot more often than engineering world does. A lot of people have an image of public relations as a shady, fact-twisting spin machine. A quick Google search will turn up dozens of criticisms of public relations.
Most people in the public relations world seem to be too easy-going to care about what the general public things about their ethics. This seems odd, considering we make our living dealing with what people think. I think it is time the public relations world revisits its ethics.
One idea I’ve heard is to make public relations a licenced profession. Anyone wanting to practice would have to pass an exam, much like lawyers, doctors and teachers must. The idea is that if you have to be licenced to practice, you are less likely to be unethical because you risk loosing your license. I am not really sure how practical the licencing idea is, but it make sense. For now, we will just have to trust that people will do the right thing.