Thursday, July 21, 2011

Communication Ethics

What are communication ethics? That's a prompt response from a fellow professional when I broached the subject, questioning the very use of the term 'ethics', which, according to him, is no longer valid in today's commercial world. And I remember that in one of the communicators at an international conference scoffed at the term and instead, openly admitted that "we tell lies for our clients". 
Surprisingly public relations largely has remained as a lose expression akin more to wining, dining, and spinning. The recent appointment advertisement of a leading US based production house, that has been widely discussed on the online groups, where the candidates' qualifications and experience have nothing to do with the 'public relations practice' as we know it. 
Another common expression of PR is  "peeyaar" meaning "let's drink", and as another tipsy communicator said laughingly, "There is nothing ethical about PR, Media, Business, and even life".
Well, the recent Murdoch's episode is another blot on the profession of communication despite the father-son duo making public apology.  The general tendency to have shortcuts to success, to money and power has generated a greed-psychosis leading large chunk of humanity away from the power to distinguish between good and the bad. 
What is ethical communication? Communication starts with our own self, and then it gets reflected in our words and deeds. Our intra-personal communication determines the quality of our interpersonal communication or relationship with the outside world.  Someone rightly said that "ethical communication is fundamental to responsible thinking". 
According to the credo formulated for ethical communication in 1999, the National Communication Association Legislative Council, says that :
"Ethical communication enhances human worth and dignity by fostering truthfulness, fairness, responsibility, personal integrity, and respect for self and others."
In late 1950s Rotary adopted the Code of Ethics called "The Four Way Test", which is a system of four questions for any individual to help him or her make an ethical decision in day-to-day activities.  But before these four questions, the title of this Test starts with a pertinent qualifier, i.e. "The Four Way Test - Of the Things we think, say or do."
The way we "think", the way we communicate with ourselves, and the way we interpret external realities to ourselves and formulate or design messages to verbalise them demonstrates the quality of all our communication. Unethical thinking or unethical communication with our own self can damage the quality of our relationship with our outside world. 
The etymology of the term "communication" from the Latin word "communis" means 'establishing commonness', a commonness or relationship with other human beings. And the moment we think about relationship, and the terminology "Public Relations", which seeks to build relationship between an organisation and its diverse publics or stakeholders, will fail the moment it is based on untruth, is dishonest, and unfair to those concerned. 
Communication is critical to our lives. It is the foundation of building a strong, trusting relationship, and an equally trustworthy individual and a great society. 
Whether an individual or a corporate entity, it is incumbent upon them to be honest, truthful, trustworthy, and ethical in its dealings with its stakeholders to ensure a more stable, sustainable, everlasting relationship based on mutual respect and trust. 
Ethical communication is therefore sine qua non to ensure a conflict-free, positively-oriented evolution into a peaceful world. 

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