This Week in PR Ethics (04/02/20) – Doctors Speak Out (and are Punished), Purpose is Not Optional, Politics Must Change

Communication ethics issues this week ranged from the right and duty for doctors to speak out, to the growing importance of purpose during a pandemic and how must political campaigns change. We also had a fun discussion in my class last night on the unintended consequences of the Tiger King on Netflix.

  • Hospitals tell doctors they will be fired if they speak out about the lack of protective gear – The most fascinating story this week was from Bloomberg that reported that Hospitals tell doctors they will be fired if they speak out about the lack of protective gear and some have followed through on the threat. This is not violating patient safety or confidentiality and is a clear violation of codes of ethics dedicated to transparency and the free flow of information. Additionally, if they went outside the organization, which is doing things allegedly harmful to themselves and others, should the doctors be accorded whistleblower status.  One of my colleagues pushed back that The concern is that if this continues, it opens the floodgates for everyone/anyone to speak to press, and potential is there for anyone, at any level (RN, PA, to aide), to violate patient confidentiality HIPPA or no HIPPA is out the door. (And, once this is over, the focus is no longer on the patient.)  It makes for great conversation and debate and is a thorny issue.


  • Purpose is not optional during an epidemicEdelman invested in a special trust barometer survey and found that consumers expect brands to step up during COVID-19. Ninety percent of respondents want brands to work with government and relief agencies and 50% say helping out is a must for earning or keeping their trust. The survey shows that people will hold brands accountable for their actions: 52% of those asked said brands will have to protect people to earn or keep their trust, and 71% said the companies that prioritize profits over people will lose their trust forever. While I think forever is a long time, it shows the growing importance and expectation of ethical purpose


  • How must campaigns changes?Campaigns and Elections looks at how political campaigns and campaigning must change during a pandemic and the ethical issues political communicators are grappling with over fundraising and events.


  • How should a country communicate? – No, I am not discussing the U.S. People really liked my interview with Hasan Zuberi, the head of the PR Council of Pakistan. Keeping an international flair, I appreciated how the Borneo Post highlighted that Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the new Communications and Multimedia Minister, this week said moulding a society that values communicating with wisdom and in an ethical manner, will be a focus of the ministry. It also opens up discussion opportunities around should government be building the framework for how we communicate?
Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
Follow Me
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


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *