Public Relations: Of ethics, values and professionalism

By Azanis Shahila Aman and Marsha Adibah

GOMBAK, 5 November 2017: A common notion to public relations practitioners is that they must adhere to the values of professionalism and abide by the code of ethics upheld by professional bodies like the Public Relations Society and the Institute of Public Relations. However, it is not always as easy as it sounds.

A session with public relations practitioners held recently was aimed at discovering those ethics and strategies to practise professionalism in its true sense. Under the theme “Public Relations in the Digital Age: Ethical Issues and Professionalism”, the talk was organised by the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia Students Association (IPRMSA) – IIUM Chapter on Friday (3 November) to boost students’ confidence and increase their knowledge of the field.

The speakers for the session were former President of the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia (IPRM), who is also former IIUM Rector and currently a senior professor at the Department of Communication, Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed Arabi Idid; Chairman and Principal Consultant of Samanea PR Sdn. Bhd, Aishah Rashid; Vice President of Institute of Public Relations Malaysia (IPRM), Jaffri Amin Osman; Strategic Communications and Event Management Specialist of Renegade Interactive, Nor Azlina Datuk Ishak; and Executive of Group HSE, Petroleum National Berhad (PETRONAS), Ahmad Nazreen Shah Ruslan.

The event started off with an inspiring opening remarks by the Advisor for the IPRMSA-IIUM Chapter, Dr. Zeti Azreen Ahmad calling on participants to use this golden opportunity to acquire the best knowledge and experience shared at this session by the professionals.

Commitment towards professionalism

Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed Arabi in his session stressed the importance of ethics in public relations when he called for the practitioners to become more professional.

He said, “Rather than sweat over whether public relations is a profession, the practitioners themselves should strive to be more professional.

Therefore, it is important for practitioners to demonstrate professionalism in the manner of their practice that include signing up for a code of conduct and showing commitment towards professional development.”

According to Prof. Syed Arabi, these commitments are the hallmarks of public relations professionalism which offer practitioners an opportunity to showcase a certain standard in meeting the needs and expectations of stakeholders, colleagues and the wider society.

Upholding truth, fairness and privacy rights

Meanwhile, Aisha Rashid in her presentation, stressed on how public relations practitioners should behave ethically, typically to uphold truth, fairness, and privacy rights of their clients and to show responsibility and authenticity to the public.

She shared her experience where she had been sacked from her contract and had to pay compensation because she said she stood firm in ethics. She resigned from the organisation that violated the ethics and rules as she has been the public relations practitioner. She asked all public relations students to go through the study of ethics for their good use later on.

She highlighted: “When the organisation has ethical issues, you need to bring the matter to the senior management and make them understand the situation. If you do not address the issue, it will blow up into a crisis later.”

However, she said, “Most importantly, you have to present yourself nicely to the right people and bring this up by supporting with facts and the knowledge, and a practitioner can even quote examples online in order to make your voice heard.”

Striking emotions and creativity

IPRM’s Vice President, Jaffri Amin Osman, gave a number of tips in dealing with media relations, emphasising the need to strike the emotions of target publics and putting creativity in the delivery of public relations message.

He told the session that practitioners need to establish stronger internal and external communication systems that require employees to have enhanced public relations skills and to come out with something “that make you different from the others”.

“The explosion of an independent news media these days has made media relations become an important part of public relations,” he said.

In fact, he added, it is no coincidence that the rise of independent news media was soon followed by the rise of public relations as a field, has been stressed.

The afternoon session was continued with the presentation by Nor Azlina who shared the importance of  complementary values to be a good public relations practitioner.

Intellectual curiosity

She told the session that students of public relations must learn to be intellectually curious in order to get the information and facts that the outsiders would not share.

“With the intellectual curiosity, we would strive to get the right information. If we don’t get the right information, it would be tough to defend ourselves when we are ‘attacked’ by the questions from the publics. The public relations practitioners are the intermediary between the organisation and the publics that they serve. The more we know, the less inefficient we become,” she said.

She also mentioned the importance of dedication “which is reflective of basic things like honesty, authenticity and ethics”.

The ethicality of public relations is based on the integrity that practitioners stand for, she told the session. “Integrity is reflective of what is right compared to what is wrong. Public relations practitioners who have  high level of integrity are bound to make better decisions for the organisation.”

The other value Nor Azlina highlighted was the importance of “seeing the big picture where it is important to see the consequences of any decision that has been made, and to embrace change in organisation”.

Challenges in community relations 

Meanwhile, Ahmad Nazreen shared his insightful experience in PETRONAS when he was handling his tasks on community relations and stakeholder management in Pengerang, Johor, where he had to face several challenges in dealing with villagers, civil servants, local authorities, politicians and the palace.

He cited that in handling of a refinery project in Pengerang, he had to expose himself to a number of issues which included “moving not only the living but also the dead” where the company needed to acquire a huge piece of land that required the company to relocate the people living in the area which involved social, cultural and religious sentiments to be dealt with.

He told the session that there was a huge gamut of issues to deal with in community relations, including attending promptly to public complaints, and making sure people are happy with the decisions that needed to be carried out satisfactorily.

“As a company, we should do further research, ask ourselves how will the project affect the community around the area and come out with appropriate solutions,” he stressed.

Socially responsible

In a nutshell, the speakers who shared their experience at the public relations session agreed that public relations practitioners should be acting as ‘the front” in the organisation. Any kind of activities that tarnish the company’s reputation could affect the organisation’s bottom line. It is therefore the role of public relations practitioners to ensure corporations be socially responsible.

Public Relations practitioners should be empowered within the organisations which means that they should be invited into the strategic planning and to be part of management team.

President of IPRMSA- IIUM Chapter, Lailatul Fitriyah Matsaini said, “This event has actually helped students and participants to get a clear understanding and an exposure to the practice of public relations based on the knowledge and experiences shared by the speakers.”

She said students only learned theories in class and “this is indeed the best platform for them to know that public relations is not merely about getting publicity, but is certainly more than that”.

In this era, she added, getting public relations practitioners to work in an ethical and professional manner is really crucial.

“More and more people started to lose their values and we don’t want that to happen to future public relations practitioners like us. And that is why we bring these speakers so that students can learn about public relations in greater detail.”

“Overall, I felt so happy with the attendance at the event. We expected only 40 but almost 70 came to the event. And they are not only coming from Communication Department, some of them are from Engineering, Law, and Economics. We even received participants from UiTM and MMU,” she added.

The event’s programme manager, Siti Qistina Ahmad Kamal said, “This event is a good platform to help students learn more about the reality of professionalism and ethics in public relations.”

“The dynamic background and the experiences shared by the speakers are definitely an eye opening for students to acknowledge the importance of being ethical and professional,” she added. ***



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