This Week in PR Ethics (12/3/20): International Ethics Issues, PRCA Ethics Enforcement and Free Webinars

This week, (well two weeks) the most interesting ethical issues I found tended to have an international flavor, and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and ethics was central to many of them. There are also two very interesting (and free) ethics Webinars coming up in the next week.

  • Astroturfing and fake data – I found a LinkedIn post this week to be one of the most fascinating ethics stories I have read in a long time. It details how a brand allegedly leveraged both a fake PR firm and fake data to inject a false narrative into the conversation to advance its position. In this case is dealt with allegedly false data over the true sustainability impact of electric vehicles.


  • Safeguarding Confidences – In mid-November, the Sunday Times broke a story that alleged the chairman of a public affairs firm had secretly served as an adviser to the UK Health minister and leaked information he gained in that role to other paying clients. The PRCA was investigating the issue as a violation to its ethics code. It is important to note that recently the complaint to PRCA was withdrawn, so the investigation has stopped. Even though the complaint was withdrawn, it highlights two great issues for discussion with teams and students: a) The need to safeguard confidences and not share information gained from one client with other clients or the media and b) what is the role of industry associations in enforcing codes of ethics? PRCA has been a champion of taking an active role, and I use their Bell Pottinger example in my ethics class every semester.


  • Conflict of interest – In another interesting example of a potential ethics issue – The PRCA submitted a complaint to the House of Lords over a lobbyist using influence and relationships gained through public-serving roles for commercial gain when there was clear conflict of interest. The issue deals with how professionals handle conflict of interest and also the need to constantly advance the profession. The PRCA referred this to the House of Lords for the PRCA did not have jurisdiction since none of the parties were members. This also highlights one of the challenges many people point out with regards to codes of ethics – worldwide, the vast majority of PR professionals are not members of professional associations, so there is limited ability to enforce ethical action even if there is the desire to do so. I applaud PRCA for its stance and creative approach in calling out issues.



  • The Love Jihad and Cultural Differences – One of my international students shared this interesting OpEd from the Washington Post that looked at cultural differences in India and recent violence that “was triggered by false rumors of a “love jihad” — what Hindu nationalists say is an alleged plot by Muslim youths to woo and convert Hindu girls” While this OpEd has a definite point of view, and I fully admit I was not aware of the situation, one thing jumped out at me – an “ad by the jewelry brand Tanishq had to be withdrawn for showing a Muslim family celebrating Hindu customs and traditions to make a pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law feel loved.” This reminds me of the Oreo issue here in the states a few weeks ago (Go Oreo!) and drives home all the facets brands must consider.


  • Two interesting, free Ethics Webinars – There are two free interesting Webinars on ethics coming up soon:
    • Ethics in the Business of Healthcare Webinar – O’Dwyers alerted me to an upcoming free Webinar that should be of interest to anyone interested in ethics and healthcare. Finn Partners managing partner, global health Gil Bashe is moderating a Dec. 8 webinar focused on ethics, the biopharma industry and whether the sector can regain the high reputation it once had. The webinar runs from noon to 1 p.m. To register for the webinar, click here.
    • Can Political Consultants Fix American Politics? – In the wake of 2020, what can political consultants do to make politics less awful? On December 10th at 6p ET join Project on Ethics in Political Communication Director Peter Loge for a conversation with senior Democratic strategist Oren Shur, senior Republican strategist Susan Del Percioand George Washington University graduate student Nikita Sibley. Details and registration here.


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 *