This Week in PR Ethics: Double Standards, the Transparency/Trust Contradiction and Greenwashing

Short and sweet this week, a few of the more interesting communication ethics topics of the past week: Journalist double standards, The transparency/trust contradiction and greenwashing.

  • The Double Ethics Standard Between PR and Journalism –  Martin Waxman asks an interesting question in a Spinsucks column yesterday “Should we hold journalists to the same high ethical standards they have for us? If we find an abuse on their part, what’s our best course of action?” Last week he saw an ad in the Globe and Mail for one of their newest products – a 10-day cruise through the South of France and the opportunity to travel with some of their top editors and columnists. Is that ethical?

  • Is controlling access unethical?China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters as a result of an opinion piece the Journal wrote asking if China was the true “sick man of Asia.” The students were outraged, but it gets to be interesting to discuss how is this different from companies not speaking with reporters that write negative stories about them, or adding specific restrictions. Is this another double standard?

  • Ethics of Infectious Disease Outbreaks – @leeannp8 shared an interesting publication from the World Health Organization “Guidance for Managing Ethical Issues in Infectious Disease Outbreaks.” A good part of the document looks at issues such as diverse perspectives, transparency, sex and gender-sensitive communications, dealing with literacy issues and lack of access to information. It’s an interesting read in light of the Corona virus and a good read for any healthcare communicators or those corporate communicators dealing with these issues.

  • Are transparency and trust contradictory? – Speaking of transparency, there was a fascinating article that the Global Alliance shared as part of Global Ethics month. The article examined if transparency destroyed trust, in the true meaning of both words.  It’s a very nuanced piece and worth a read. I have my class writing on it for extra credit.

  • Is BP Greenwashing? – One of my students brought this up in class today. Are BP and other energy companies promising Net Zero Carbon emissions greenwashing? Can they be accurate and honest, or by the nature of the company’s activities and purpose, are the unable to be ethical and honest in communications on this issue?

Until next week. Let me know what you think or if you see any interesting ethics in communication stories.


Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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