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HMC News: Is ethical PR possible?

An ethical PR world?

By Monica Helbano, PR student and HMC Intern

Can public relations really be practiced ethically? Having studied public relations alongside opinionated students for the past three years, I've heard quite a mixed bag of thoughts.

The world of PR has evolved considerably in the past 200 years. Unfortunately, PR has a tainted past. In the 1800s, public relations' main purpose was to manipulate behaviour through one-way communication. Spin was rampant, and accuracy and credibility weren't high on the priorities list either. All of this contributed to the image of PR's unethical reputation.

Since then, the communication landscape has changed. The digital age has sparked two-way communication. The voices of ordinary people have become just as influential as the voice of big corporates. This has changed the purpose of PR from monologue to dialogue.

Within this environment, public relations holds a lot of weight. Engaging viral videos, influencers, what's on the news and trending topics are all outputs of PR practice. So, the power to shape public opinion and consequently shape society also lies in the hands of PR people.

On this note, Uncle Ben off Spider-Man sheds some light on the PR conscience, "With great power comes great responsibility." With the possibility of influencing opinion, PR practitioners have a responsibility to function ethically to protect public interest and facilitate an honest society.

But how do PR people know what's the right thing to do? This is where PRINZ steps in. Public relations practitioners need an objective criterion on which to base their actions. The PRINZ code of ethics gives us an objective standard based on a practitioner's obligations and duties to both clients and the public.

Upholding the PRINZ code of ethics means understanding the power PR has in society and shows a commitment to being the 'ethical conscience' of clients.

So, can public relations really be practiced ethical? Yes, it can and should be. Or, in the words of an idealistic student, we're saving the world one ethical press release at a time.