Sunday, October 6, 2013

Boss Knows Best? Not Always

Michelle Robinson

Personal Ethics vs. Company Policy

Oftentimes personal ethics can get in the way of complying with what the boss wants versus what an employee feels is ethically correct.

When it comes to ethical values in Public Relations and Communications, it is necessary to find a balance between personal ethics and the ethical codes held within a corporation. 

According to, public relations professionals were surveyed on their willingness to speak up in regards to ethical decision making. While many professionals take on the values of their workplace, many are not willing to sacrifice personal ethics and reputation. 

"A few were fired or demoted for refusing to do something that was blatantly unethical; two resigned when their advice was rejected, including one who refused to include false information in a press release," (

These PR professionals not only need to be a reliable source to the public, but they must also have a good relationship with the company's legal council. This multi-faceted job makes ethical decision making one of the most important factors of their job. 

So who becomes reliable when there is a flub in the system, a fault in a report? 

As seen in many public controversies regarding well-known news outlets, management is quick to deny any involvement in an unethical decision or faulty reporting. One such example is the Rupert Murdoch Scandal, in which phones were illegally hacked in a police investigation.

                                             -Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation 

This is not to say that management and people in PR positions should always be held accountable for a mistake. It is often the case that a single employee will breach the rules and do something unethical for personal benefits. But management should be aware of the going-ons in their company and should work to ensure that no laws are being breached in their investigative reporting techniques.

According to PRSA, some things that force people to break the ethical boundaries of news reporting include intense pressure to reach goals, performing better than competing companies and fear of losing their jobs if they do not comply with management’s wishes.

There are steps that can be taken in order to ensure that employees are working in an ethically conscious environment and to avoid controversy. This includes strengthening ethical guidelines by strictly enforcing them, ensuring anonymity when reporting unethical behavior and managing with ethical codes.

“One of a CEO’s most important jobs is to create, foster and communicate the culture of the organization,” (Virgil Scudder). 

As a CEO, people in the company will look up to the person in charge and will follow their example, so it's best for them to be ethical decision makers. 

How Video Creates Problem In Ethical Distribution of Material 
The increasing use of video to report breaking news is causing even more of a stir in the ethicality behind news reporting, due to the fact that many can be misleading to the audience.

The switch from film to videotape and satellite distribution have made it possible to share video with massive amounts of outlets around the globe.

VNR’s (video news releases) became such an easy way to share media that corporations did not have to create their own films, but used ones provided from other outlets. A high demand for content resulted in many organizations using third-party videos to fill space and provide more information. The problem is providing correct accreditation when using a film that the company did not create.

In order to avoid confusion over credit, Dave Busiek with KCCI-TV says that “outsourced videos are mentioned three places: audibly in the script, visually as a super during the story and again as a video credit at the end of the newscast.”

This way there is no muddy water in regards to crediting a source. 

Just because a person may hold a higher position in a corporation does not mean they should not be equally held accountable when their employees (or their company) makes a hearty mistake. After all, these people stand in a position of leadership for their entire team. They are responsible for setting the ethical standards within the newsroom and should expect their employees to follow their lead.

“A company’s cultural and ethical standards come from the top down, not from the bottom up,” (Virgil Scudder). 

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