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Normative Ethics as it Relates to Public Relations and Journalism Communication Issues

Normative Ethics as it Relates to Public Relations and Journalism Communication Issues (Summary)

ETHICS : According to Omoregbe (1993) cited in Onabajo (2002),ethics is concerned with  fundamental principles of morality where some actions are regarded as good or bad; right or wrong; ethical or unethical and the various criteria for making such judgements.
The purpose of ethics is to avoid doing harm and this is vital in communication because it strive to build trust.
Communication ethics is the belief that an individual's or group's behaviour are governed by their morals which in turn affects communication, such as interpersonal communication, group communication, mass mediated communication, and digital communication.

Communication enhances human worth and dignity by fostering truthfulness, fairness, responsibility, personal integrity, and respect for self and others.
Unethical communication threatens the quality of all communication and consequently the well being of individuals and the society in which we live.
Normative ethics refers to the branch of moral philosophy concerned with how we ought to live our lives, what things we ought to value, and what practical decisions we ought to make.
There are many varieties of normative ethics and many versions of each variety. There are approaches that appear to be particularly useful and relevant to areas of application such as business ethics or professional ethics.
The main focus will be on three sets of theories:
 Utilitarian ethics judges actions by their consequences, assessed in terms of some measure of utility. Its application typically takes the form of a kind of cost-benefit analysis, but applied to the utility function for society at large rather than to that for a particular actor.
 Kantian ethics focuses on the actions themselves and the principles that might be adopted to guide people in these actions, irrespective of their consequences. It suggests that people have an unconditional ethical duty to follow principles that are generic and that treat people as ends not means.
Virtue ethics focuses on the character of the actor rather than on the actions or their consequences, and equates the ethical with what a virtuous person would do in any particular situation.
For a while, people’s characters are revealed by their actions, they are not necessarily revealed by individual actions. To judge how ethical a fictional character is we need to read the whole novel, not just a few pages, and the same is true of real life.
PROBLEM STATEMENT: Many critics argue that there can be no ethical public relations because the practice itself is akin to manipulation and propaganda. The focus question:  Is there such a thing as communication ethics in public relations and journalism?
Theoretical Framework: Social Responsibility Theory.
Methodology: The paper employs content analysis.
Truthfulness is  the  opposite  of  deception  which  is  a  deliberate  intention  to  mislead. Half-truths, lying and withholding information are various forms of deception.
Withholding information is in violation   of   the   code   as it   ''manipulates   people   by   limiting   the   information available to them as they make choices. This is an assault on one’s personal autonomy''. 
A business with unethical communication practices is not as effective as one with ethical communication practices.
 For example, a business with unethical communication practices may withhold evidence that it is harming the environment or breaking a law through a lack of transparency.
A business with ethical communication practices will immediately issue a press release to the affected parties. In this example, transparency makes the business more effective because it notifies its clients, prospective or established, providers/suppliers, or other affiliates of the potential environmental hazard or law violation.
This example, transparency will encourage trust and good faith, that the effective business will not conceal what is in the interest of its audience.
Public Relations and Tobacco Industry 
It is also morally questionable as  to  whether  public  relations  should  be  involved  with  an  industry  that  sells  deadly products.
Due  to  the  poor  public  image  of  the  tobacco  industry,  several  front  organisations  have been   created  to  design communication in order to   voice   pro-tobacco   views and create  the  impression  that  the  public  is  supporting  the  tobacco  industry. PR practitioners conceal information about the damage tobacco can do to human health.
Deontological, it is wrong to sell a product that kills.    Therefore,  it  is  questionable  as  whether  the  tobacco  industry  can  be  a  good  corporate  citizen  when  the  product it produces is harmful to society.
Teleology holds that an  action is ethical  if  its  benefits  for  society  are  greater  than  its  alternatives.  The  emphasis  here  is  on  the  consequences  of  the  actions  which should promote human well-being for the most number of people.
In  addition,  if  the  half-truth  information  is  printed  in  the  media  (and  given  that  the  public  expects  truth  and  accuracy from the media), it is also guilty of corrupting the channels of communication. 
Journalism and Communication Ethics: Certainly, ethically based practice of journalism enhances the responsibility of the media. The ethical imperative of objectivity, fairness, accuracy and balance has been eroded.

DISCRIMINATION: In 2005, a telecommunication company (MTN) employed advertisement to enforces sex disparity in the society. The scenario generated heated debate among audience and stake holders in Nigeria in 2005 when the advert placed emphasis on the dominance of the male child over the female child. Consequently, MTN was charged for instigating discrimination in the society. Consequently, the stated advertisement was withdrawn from circulation.
According to Beli (n.d) in his study of challenging the challenges of broadcast regulations in Nigeria: a study of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), he discovered that  broadcast stations are always accused of such violation of what is called standards of  broadcasting in Nigeria, and the NBC is thought to be weak in calling them into order.
 Beli cited an example of the Nigeria’s 2003 general electioneering campaign in which the (NTA) was said to have violated the law provision of the NBC which compels mass media to give equal chances to political oppositions for political advertisement.
Section 7.6.5 of the NBC code (2012) says “no broadcaster shall deny any person, party or group a right of broadcast of a political advertisement”.
The then PDP Candidate, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was given a full coverage and refused the same for ANPP presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. The NBC could not enforce that law to arrest the stated situation.

The NBC Code also allows for ten percent (10%) airing of religious programmes “notwithstanding the above, religious broadcast shall not exceed 10% of the total weekly airtime of any broadcaster” (Section 4.3.1 (I) NBC 2012).
However, during the year 2008, about forty six percent (46%) of the Radio Kano AM programmes were religious, most especially during the Ramadan Period. The situation continued like that and NBC could not enforce the law to stop the station from broadcasting the excesses.
Illegal/Misleading Advertisement
NBC Code (2012) says: “an advertisement shall not be broadcast if it contains an offer of a medicine or product, or an advice relating to the treatment of serious diseases, complaints, conditions, indications or symptoms, which should rightly receive the attention of a registered medical practitioner”.
Every day as one tune to his radio stations, he tends to listen to some traditional medicine sellers advertising medicine for serious diseases like HIV/AIDS, Gonorrhoea and so on, Beli stated.
He added that in Freedom Radio and Radio Kano for example, Islamic medical centers like Dan-Fodiyo and Ibrahim Khalil Centre of Islamic Medicine are regularly aired with such information. Section 7.3.5 of the NBC code.

Offensive Images
A responsible journalist’s intent should be to inform, not to offend.
In September 2005, Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad did not result in protest when they were first published. But when they were republished in early 2006, attention was drawn to the 12 images; it resulted in rioting throughout the Islamic world. The consequences were that Embassies were burnt and people were killed.
After the rioting and killing started, it was difficult to ignore the cartoons. Some media elected merely to describe the cartoons, not to print them. Yet every time a major protest broke out, the more likely it was that the cartoons would be published. Predictably, perhaps, each publication set off a new wave of protests.
In our country, it is assumed that a media station is of high reputation for truth-telling and fairness, and readers and viewers are curious to see what is driving such outrage.
An ethical journalist can provide a link to a website where they could be viewed. Whatever you decide, it is important to have a serious discussion and a good reason for your decision.
Providing Truthful Information
When a journalist is in dilemma in respect of ethical challenges, he or she should consider the following principles.
  • Consider the utilitarianism of our actions, that is, our action should produce the greatest balance of good over evil.
  • Lastly treat people in the same way you would expect to be treated.

The purpose of ethics is to avoid doing harm and this is vital in communication because it strive to build trust. This allows both parties to define what is acceptable to allow for better relations between individuals and different departments, in the case of organizations.

Normative Ethics as it Relates to Public Relations and Journalism Communication Issues Normative Ethics as it Relates to Public Relations and Journalism Communication Issues Reviewed by IFEDAYO AKINWALERE on 10:28:00 am Rating: 5