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Doris Lim Public Relations

Musaab Mohamed Adam 30581155

As we marched into a global era the practice of public relations has become

an essential element that governs the conduct of relationship between

governments and its publics as well as organizations and their shareholders.

The practice of public relations has become a multi billion-dollar business

employing hundreds of thousands of practitioners around the world.

according to (Fraser P.Seitel ,2001,9) “ public relations is a distinctive

management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of

communications, understanding, acceptance , and cooperation between an

organization and its publics ; involves the management of problems or

issues: helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public

opinion ; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve

the public interest ; helps management keep abreast of and effectively

utilizes change, serving as an early warning systems to help anticipate

trends ; and uses research and sound and ethical communication techniques

as its principal tools”.

From this definition it is easy to draw a line that distinguishes ethical from

unethical public relations practice, however it is not an easy task. Truth and

credibility are some of the values that make the practice of public relations

ethical, while distortion, subterfuge and manipulation are the antitheses of

good public relations practice.

There are many areas of public relations, such as financial public relations,

crisis management and SCR or corporate social responsibility however this

Ms. Doris Lim Public Relations

Musaab Mohamed Adam 30581155

essay will examine the role and function of corporate social responsibility as

an effective method of public relation practice to demonstrate how unethical

or ethical global conglomerates and governments can be.

As the predominance of corporatism increases in Malaysia the notion of

corporate social responsibility is increasingly gaining popularity as the best

way for global business players to appear socially , ethically responsible to

the general public.

Today globalization has drastically changed the world we inhabit; the role of

multi-national companies in effecting policies cannot be ignored. Financially

governments are aware of issues such as job loss and capital flight; global

corporations pose challenges to the amount of control local governments

exercise over their economies. Yet (brownlee,2005,122) argues that "policies

geared towards corporate social responsibility are gaining popularity among


This might be attributed to the fact that social movements are increasingly

pressuring global corporations regarding their conduct and environmental

activities. From this point of view Brownlee(2005) argues that "all efforts

towards greater corporate social responsibility by corporations happen out of

mere self-interest and are means towards an end instead of an end in

itself"(p.223) would that make the tactics of public relation practice

unethical?.(Alan,1994,227) argued that ethics are the most difficult to gauge

because every one has their own definition of what is good and bad through

Ms. Doris Lim Public Relations

Musaab Mohamed Adam 30581155

personal experience.

The presence of profit interests in corporate social responsibility policies

blurs the line of ethical and unethical public relation practice. Ethically

companies are expected to address social issues even beyond their profit

interests (davenport,2000,216), this however will leave the term ethical

ambiguous and open to personal interpretation as mentioned by


In this sense, public relation practice must serve the society in order to be

considered ethical. (wilcox, Cameron, Ault and Agee.2003.p16) argued that

public relations practitioners have to carry out their task to satisfy the public

interest, the employer, the organization and their own personal values.

Therefore public relation practitioners operate within a code of ethics that

governs their tactics to insure honest and ethical practice of the profession.

For example, Article 1 of the (PRIA) codes states that members "shall deal

fairly with the general public"


ceshowever )the article failed to define the accurate meaning and extent of

dealing fairly. (Wall,2003,188) described the codes as inadequate and should

include explicit definitions regarding public and clients interests.

Ms. Doris Lim Public Relations

Musaab Mohamed Adam 30581155

The Public Relation Institute of Australia (PRIA) was established in new south

Wales in 1949 and today 61 years latter PRIA guide lines helps practitioners

distinguishes between ethical and unethical public relation practice via a

comprehensive code of ethics where practitioners carry out their tasks with


An ethical public relation practice is influenced by the local culture of a

country. For example in Malaysia McDonalds have to consider the Malaysian

festivals, they respect the month of Ramadan which during this time, the

local culture forbids the Malays from eating in public, as a result the Malays

are not offered food or drinks and have to leave earlier so they can get ready

to "break their fasting”. Most of the McDonalds restaurants will adopt an

Islamic theme while during the Chinese New Year we notice that all

restaurants have an oriental theme in response to local tradition.

However according to (Sriramesh,2004,23) Asian and western countries

share a very different concept of public relations. In the west public relation

practice is viewed as a platform for elections and public debate, while in

Asia, alternative views are encouraged in theory but not in practice. With

reference to the court case of Raja Petra Kamarudin who was charged with


Within the Malaysian context, political and economical factors influence and

shape ethical public relation practice. According to (Sriramesh,2003,57)"

Ms. Doris Lim Public Relations

Musaab Mohamed Adam 30581155

politics and economics are two sides of a coin because a country’s decision

making ability is influenced by the economic direction that determines a

country’s stability and development" within this context I would like to refer

to the widely publicized murder case of the Mongolian model Altantuyaa

Shaariibuugiin which was closely associated with the PM Najib, the case was

of great public concern as it involved a prominent public figure, therefore

considered "News Worthy" attracting wide international news coverage

which in return required the intervention of Spin doctors to manage the crisis

and make Najib look more than the master mind of a violent murder. (Fred

Garcia,1999,9) described crisis as "unplanned visibility" in this example the

public relations practitioners aim was to successfully manage the image of

the deputy PM regardless of the fact that distorting or holding up information

from the public is considered unethical.

In this case official practitioners considered a number of variables when

dealing with the media. For instance, reporters didn’t press for information

regarding Najib alibis and the extent of his involvement; instead they

focused all the attention on the two army personals involved, which have

been identified as Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 30 and Corporal Sirul Azhar

Umar, 35 both members of the elite Unit Tindakan Khasa (the Malaysian

Police Special Action Force or counter-terrorism unit) at the time of the

murder. The media didn’t report much on Najibs involvement was a result of

cooperation between the various media outlets and the Malaysian

government for the sake of impression management. The word describes the
Ms. Doris Lim Public Relations

Musaab Mohamed Adam 30581155

process through which public relation practitioners attempt to influence the

impression of the public regarding an event or a person.

This argument falls directly under investor relations communications which

falls in line with corporate social responsibility initiatives and crisis

management. If Najib represents an organization then Malaysians are the

major shareholders, and if Najib was to be found of any wrong doing it would

be catastrophic news for Malaysians.(Bivins,2003,118) argued that

practitioners are often in compromising positions which require them to act

in terms of public interest thus restricting their professional obligations by

that responsibility.

However our Malaysian context crystallizes the notion that when it comes to

crisis management doing the right thing might not always be ethical under

the circumstances.

Malaysia is being described today as a "melting pot" of cultures due to the

Malaysian government "Satu Malaysia" campaign, which is aimed at

harmonizing the atmosphere between all races in Malaysia. This is an

extremely successful public relations campaign that sets an example of

ethical practice as it promotes equality and fairness to all citizens

furthermore a step forward in the nations overall development.

Ms. Doris Lim Public Relations

Musaab Mohamed Adam 30581155

In conclusion beside political and economical factors, globalization has

drastically changed and continuously molds this practice that has yet to

overcome many challenges such as the urgent standardization of its codes of

conduct which will facilitate more ethical practice.(Bovet,1993,16) argued

that the code of conduct is important because it addresses the public

interest, encourages honesty and integrity, as well as discourages conflict of

interest, disclosure of information as well as promoting professional


The global environment will pose new ethical dilemmas and challenges for

practitioners around the world. The responsive and adaptive nature of the

public relation atmosphere has blurred the lines between ethical and

unethical practice.

Reference list

Alan, N .R. "Issus commnication and advocacy: contemporary ethical

challenges." public relations review, 1994: 20 (3) 225-231.

Bivins, T. "Public relations, professionalism and public interest." journal of

Ms. Doris Lim Public Relations

Musaab Mohamed Adam 30581155

business ethics, 1993: (12) 117-126.

Bovet, s. "The burning question of ethics." Public Relations Journal, 1993: 24-

Fraser, P. Seitle. the practice of public relations. new jersey: seitel, 2001.

Helio, F. G. "crisis communications." American association of Advertising,

1999: 18-39.

Wall, M. What happened to public responsibility? australia: bond university,


Wilcox, d., Cameron, G., Ault, P , Agee W. public relations: stratigies and
tactics. new york: allyn & bacon, 2003.

Sriramesh, Krishnamurthy and Vercic, Dejan. "The Global Public Relations

Theory, Research and Practice". Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates. 2003
Sriramesh, Krishnamurthy."Public Relations practice and research in Asia: A
Conceptual framework". Singapore: Thomson, 2004.
Kim Davenport, “Corporate Citizenship: A Stakeholder Approach for Defining
Corporate Social Performance and Identifying Measures for Assessing It,”
Business & Society 39 (2000): 216.
Cf. Jamie Brownlee, "Ruling Canada. Corporate Cohesion and Democracy"
(Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2005): 122.

es accessed 27th 10 2010