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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2018

15. Harm in Public Relations

From the book Communication and Media Ethics

  • Johanna Fawkes


This chapter summarises the main positions of public relations ethics, characterising the field as profoundly divided between the organisation-centred functionalist approach of the ‘Excellence’ project and the more societally-aware rhetorical/ critical schools of writing. The former delineates best practice but has been interpreted as descriptive rather than normative; as if best practice tells the whole story. Unlike Excellence, rhetorical schools embrace advocacy and accept persuasion. Growing numbers of critical and cultural scholars have changed the focus from organisation to society. These positions are explored, particularly regarding their ethical stances and attitudes to a central problem for public relations: the role of persuasion in practice. This is symptomatic of a deeper problem: conflicted loyalties to employer - who pays the wages or fees - and society - which bestows the title of profession only on those who can be seen to contribute beyond an employment contract. Exploration of these problems leads inexorably to contemplation of the potential for harm in the practice and theory of public relations.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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