This Week in PR Ethics (10/8/20): Don’t be an ostrich or a turtle; Webtoons and censorship

As always, I didn’t have a problem finding PR ethics issues to highlight this week. While the limo ride is an obvious example, and one I plan to discuss in class tonight, I wanted to focus on a few other interesting stories including various forms of censorship:

  • Avoid being an ostrich or a turtle – On Tuesday, PRSA came out with an advocacy statement in response to a PRWeek story that Tesla appears to have eliminated its public relations department. Of course, if there is no PR department, no one is responding to media inquiries about it to confirm or deny it. Effective, strategic public relations is grounded in two-way, symmetrical communication and the code of ethics requires the free flow of information. My only quibble with the statement is I wish PRSA had attached a name to the statement as it would have made it stronger.


  • Webtoons and censorship – A hot topic for discussion in my ethics class last week was the call to censor popular Korean webcomics. There is a lot to unpack here including – what content is too disgusting and where do you draw the line? Is misogyny enough? What control does the platform have? Do artists have the freedom to create what they like? This is playing out in Science Fiction and Fantasy in the US with the backlash against Sad Puppies and other authors and is relevant to any organization with a forum or who serves as a platform.


  • Ethics can’t be situational This week, Tim O’Brien (who I interviewed for EthicalVoices), highlighted the issues with ethical relativism and challenges between global cultures. He had a great example when a student told him in his country it was OK to lie. Tim asked him if it was OK for him to tell him he was getting and A and then give him a C. The reaction was strong and obvious.  The article makes a number of other nice points as well.


  • Don’t embezzle – It doesn’t matter if you follow deontology, teleology or a virtue-based approach to ethics – all agree that embezzling is unethical. This PR Week article highlights how a firm’s co-founder embezzled $786,000 from the firm, violating both the law and many tenets of the PRSA Code of Ethics.



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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