The First Amendment of the United States is as follows: “[It] prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.”
As an up-and-coming public relations practitioner, it is important to remember and uphold these rights as U.S. citizens, and a person within a business that represents not only their client, but its public. Like some professionals are entitled to their job pertaining to the law, public relations practitioners are entitled to their job pertaining to the public. Some companies overthrow their rights as an American citizen by breaking the First Amendment and getting into some ethical and legal trouble for it.
Anyone remember Walmart’s “Trip Round the Nation” blog?
By knowingly sending out journalists to pretend to be a traveling couple visiting Walmarts around the nation, Walmart infringed upon their right to free speech by lying to its public. Behind the veil was Edelman PR, a well-known firm. This publicity campaign eventually was found out as a flunk, and therefore received a level of mistrust between the public and Walmart.
This is one out of plenty of cases where companies have misguided the public, and outright lied to them. Fake grassroots campaigns, for example, are called astroturfing. Edelman PR, a prestigious, well-known PR firm, has been found to be astroturfing before (for a Walmart, of course). This kind of situation puts a lot of public relations practitioners into the hands of a negative public image. What many firms seem to forget, and even Edelman does apparently, is that public relations practitioners do not just serve their client: they service the public as well. When a publicist, a PR firm, a corporate organization and even a college student realize this, numbers of ethical dilemmas like this would not be so high.
Things like astroturfing are a deliberate breach of our U.S. Constitution, by lying to the public and misguiding them on a corporation, a product, a brand or anything else that is tangible that the public is interested in.
Ethical organizations such as the PRSA strive to implement a new level of trust from public relations folks to the common public through their theories and definition of workplace morals. If public relations firms, companies, organizations, and individuals learn ethics and our rights as U.S. citizens, we would become a better image for our profession.