Professor talks on ethical standards

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    By Arne Karlsson

    A BYU professor shared insight on ethical public relations strategies Thursday to a standing-room only crowd in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium.

    ?A recent New York Times article said ?PR has a bad PR problem?,? said communications professor Dr. Sherry Baker in the Raymond E. and Ida Lee Beckham Lecture. ?Those active in the field must acknowledge that there is much distrust.?

    Baker researches Mormon media history and persuasion ethics. Her lecture was entitled ?Principled Advocate versus Pathological Partisan: Achieving Conceptual Clarity about the Ethics of Public Relations.?

    ?Much of the information provided by PR is vital to our understanding of what”s going on in the world, who”s doing what and where we can go for the information we need,? Baker said. ?Clearly, public relations is a noble profession and many practitioners operate ethically as well as effectively.?

    But deception, concealment and morally questionable clients are elements that lead the public to distrust the PR practitioners.

    ?How are young PR practitioners entering the field to know what standards of excellence to uphold?? Baker said.

    Recent examples of unethical PR include media commentators being paid to promote government incentives and the knowledgeable promotion of tobacco products, despite their harmful effects.

    ?My objective has been to make applied professional ethics for public relations accessible, teachable, applicable, behavior-influencing and empowering to practitioners.? Baker said.

    Through the use of three models, Baker seeks to share ethical approaches to this growing field.

    The first model is the TARES model. It seeks respect for individuals and empowerment of those who receive the message. TARES is an acronym for: Truthfulness, Authenticity, Respect, Equity and Social responsibility.

    The next model is nicknamed the ?Stairway to Heaven for Public Relations? and provides five baselines for justification in persuasion. The principles build on each other, and each show a higher level of ethical motivation.

    The first is raw self-interest. The next is the baseline of entitlement; if it?s legal, it?s ethical. The third ?step? is enlightened self-interest; businesses do well by doing good. The next baseline is social responsibility or good citizenship. And the final and highest baseline is what Baker calls the ?Kingdom of Ends? or Kant?s categorical imperative.

    Baker?s third model is the Principled Advocate, which is focused on a person?s actions and character development. The Principled Advocate climbs up the five baselines for justification in persuasion, and the alter ego, the Pathological Partisan climbs down those same steps. The first is noble and is concerned with virtues, but the second is manipulative, solely self- and client-serving. These People would work for whoever hired them. Some of their vices are deceit, artifice, manipulative, non-principled and self- and client-serving.

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