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Code of Professional Standards for the Practice of Public Relations

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These articles have been adopted by the Public Relations Society of America to promote and maintain high standards of public service and ethical conduct among its members.

  1. A member shall conduct his or her professional life in accord with the public interest.

  2. A member shall exemplify high standards of honesty and integrity while carrying out dual obligations to a client or employer and to the democratic process.

  3. A member shall deal fairly with the public, with past or present clients or employers, and with fellow practitioners, giving due respect to the ideal of free inquiry and to the opinions of others.

  4. A member shall adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth, avoiding extravagant claims or unfair comparisons and giving credit for ideas and words borrowed from others.

  5. A member shall not knowingly disseminate false or misleading information and shall act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which he or she is responsible.

  6. A member shall not engage in any practice which has the purpose of corrupting the integrity of channels of communications or the process of government.

  7. A member shall be prepared to identify publicly the name of the client or employer on whose behalf any public communication is made.

  8. A member shall not use any individual or organization professing to serve or represent an announced cause, or professing to be independent or unbiased, but actually serving another or undisclosed interest.

  9. A member shall not guarantee the achievement of specified results beyond the member's direct control.

  10. A member shall not represent conflicting or competing interests without the express consent of those concerned, given after a full disclosure of the facts.

  11. A member shall not place himself or herself in a position where the member's personal interest is or may be in conflict with an obligation to an employer or client, or others, without full disclosure of such interest to all involved.

  12. A member shall not accept fees, commissions, gifts or any other consideration from anyone except clients or employers from whom services are performed without their express consent, given after full disclosure of the facts.

  13. A member shall scrupulously safeguard the confidences and privacy rights of present, former, and prospective clients or employers.

  14. A member shall not intentionally damage the professional reputation or practice of another practitioner.

  15. If a member has evidence that another member has been guilty of unethical, illegal, or unfair practices, including those in violation of the Code, the member is obligated to present the information promptly to the proper authorities of the Society for action in accordance with the procedure set forth in Article XII of the Bylaws.

  16. A member called as a witness in a proceeding for enforcement of this Code is obligated to appear, unless excused for sufficient reason by the judicial panel.

  17. A member shall, as soon as possible, sever relations with any organization or individual if such relationship requires conduct contrary to the articles of this Code.
The serious young professional will not only refer often to the Code but to extensive interpretations of the Code which appear in the PRSA Handbook.

Enforcing the PRSA Code

One thing sets the PRSA Code above other such codes... its enforceability. PRSA has set up a Board of Ethics and Professional Standards, made provision for judicial panels, and for review processes. Violations may result in a reprimand at several levels or expulsion from PRSA. Although many people practice public relations who are not members of PRSA, expulsion from PRSA does not, in itself, prohibit a person from practicing public relations. PRSA members accused of violations of the code of ethics have traditionally defended their credibility vigorously.

As important as enforceability may be to code effectiveness, it is still a major Achilles heel to the profession as a whole. Until most professionals belong to one professional organization, or until all major professional organizations adopt an enforceable code, adherence to a code of ethics will still remain mostly a matter of conscience.

But a code of ethics is just part of "what's around us." There is an area that might be defined as ethical practices which is not presently covered by any codes. To most practitioners avoiding the gray areas of ethic practice is a matter of common sense or perhaps simply a matter of good business. To others, merely staying strictly inside a professional or business code of ethics is enough. But is it? For example, most public relations professionals subscribe to the theory that all parties are entitled to professional counsel in the court of public opinion, just as all parties are entitled to representation in the court of law. But one public relations professional recently cautioned that public relations agencies can soon develop into the equivalent of "ambulance chasers" if they consistently court clients who cannot pass what others call the "smell test."
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