Looking Back: Ethics & Law

Throughout the spring semester of 2014 at the University of North Texas, I learned a lot about ethics, the U.S. law, ethical codes from organizations in advertising and public relations and well-known case studies surrounding ethically dubious activity or praising a sense of ethical establishment within a business environment. All of these subjects revolved around the political and business world of public relations and advertising. A lot of people perceive this type of business as a questionably moral career path. I feel that this class helps to break that old myth of PR practitioners and advertisers being sneaky and doing whatever possible, whether it be ethically dubious or not, to get the more bang for their buck. That is not to say there are NO PR people or ad people that commit these crimes (thanks P.T. Barnum…) I am simply arguing that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that generalizing a certain group of people is not the smartest opinion to have. Instead, we should be judged for ideas that develop our choices as an individual, such as our moral character, or our sense of judgment in business-like settings. America is based on individualism after all.

At the beginning of the semester, we learned about ethical theories that have guided humanity into an understanding of our morals and sense of ethics since humans could develop the ability of rhetoric. We learned the differences between morals, values and ethics. In a very general way of speaking, we also learned about Kantian ethics from Emmanuel Kant, utilitarianism theories from Jeremy Bentham and everything in-between and beyond these two well-established figures of philosophy in our ethical code as humans. Tying these theories together to present them in a way that relates to the business world, I have learned that it is crucial to keep in mind all of the theories, and educationally and rationally come to a justifiable position when it comes to ethical dilemmas in the workplace.

The textbook by Thomas Bivins was also a great read.The author has great credibility, and I felt that it was very insightful to read his input on ethics in the workplace for journalists, reporters, public relations practitioners and advertisers. In other words, this book really helps people involved with jobs relating to the mass media, whether they are people just starting out in a career, or a well-developed practitioner trying to hone his or her craft in a more ethical way.

The class also went over the different ethical codes for reporters, public relations practitioners, marketers and advertisers. I was surprised that some professions had ethical codes established, but it was a very nice surprise. It is encouraging to see groups dedicated to solving ethical dilemmas in the best way possible that is rationally justified. I have the PRSA app on my phone just in case I need to look over some tips in certain situations or look over the most important ethical values that PRSA places on its members: advocacy, honesty, fairness, expertise, independence and loyalty.

All in all, I have gained very important information from this class as I make my way in the world as a young and budding public relations practitioner. It is always inspiring to see classes and professors keeping the code of ethics alive, and trying to squash the annoying myth that all practitioners and advertisers are complete sleaze balls in the industry.

It’s time to go make a difference!

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Ethics in Advertising?

Advertisements decades ago oozed of sexual, racist and downright eye-opening themes and images that might cause one to wonder how someone OK’d it in the first place. Racial imagery, sexualized women and exaggerated stereotypes of the LGBT community were what shaped a lot of advertisements back then. The advertisements for cigarettes and alcohol were around a lot as well, and children could easily just turn on the television and see them. Fat shaming was a popular theme, too. Restaurants, food brands and any other line of business associated with commercials for food were quite blatant with their opinion on plus-size people. There was little to no regard for ethics or a moral code when doing business in advertising. Advertisers just wanted to catch the public’s eye, and they succeeded.

But why?

When America is comprised of a hegemonic society, that is, of a masculine normative that has shaped our history and societal expectations, advertisements like these are aplenty.  When America is comprised of a culturally narrow society where racism is still abound, just type in a quick Google search on 21st Century advertisements and you will find a lot of the ad firms playing into the same game of discriminatory practice that they have been doing since the beginning stages of advertising.

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Whatitsayswhatitmeans.blogspot.com

Advertising firms may play a utilitarianism role with no hint of distributive justice, since advertisements still blatantly show, even if they are subtle, hints of racism, sexism and homophobia. Distributive justice means that there may be no justice to the people who do not have their voices heard in the mainstream media as much, as compared to, say, a white, middle-class, heterosexual man. Advertising firms play the utilitarianism role because they like to cater more to the majority voice. America’s normative society is exactly what I listed earlier: White men. If they are not happy, then advertising business isn’t happy.

A code of ethics in advertising is questionable. Advertising firms cater to the majority of our society. What does that say about America’s code of ethics then?

I think if we were to look at the advertisement’s view of ethics, we will see society’s code of ethics.  Eye-opening, questionable, raw, dirty themes and messages are everywhere, because these kinds of advertisements are what gets the public’s attention, not one that plays by the rules. Advertisers, to me, are just issuing out what we as a society expect to want when we seek entertainment. It may not be the code of ethics in advertising that we must consider, but the code of ethics in U.S. culture.