A Question of Ethics: China's PR Industry Has Reached a Stage That Requires the Development of a Healthy and Complete System of Ethics

By Zhu, Juliana | Communication World, May-June 2011 | Go to article overview

A Question of Ethics: China's PR Industry Has Reached a Stage That Requires the Development of a Healthy and Complete System of Ethics


Zhu, Juliana, Communication World


Today, with network technology a part of our lives, a single hostile message online could trigger a crisis for a business. So what do some public relations agencies in China do to help companies deal with such negative exposure? They accept payment for deleting negative posts.

Professional online post terminators are paid to eliminate information that is negative to a company's image. This practice essentially violates the public's right to know, as well as the professional ethics of the PR industry in all senses. Yet it has become a common way to limit negative exposure, with a few agencies having discovered this "niche" market. While it is widely recognized in China that advertisements are unreliable, practices like post deletion are making public relations synonymous with "faked communication." This type of behavior clearly demonstrates the need to build a healthy system of PR ethics in the country as soon as possible.

It might be unfair to solely blame the PR agencies, for they are not the root cause of such behavior. So shall we blame the patron? Though the client company may be responsible in some cases, what if it is dealing with slander or outright hostility?

Kickbacks to clients are another example of misconduct. To stand out in competition, some PR agencies try to manipulate accounting records and offer kickbacks to client representatives, ranging from a certain percentage of a campaign budget, up to real estate and luxury automobiles, through money-laundering. Sometimes this practice is even regarded as the "implicit rule" of the industry. In a more hidden practice, the PR agency provides its shares to the client at a low price, or for no money at all, so that the latter will become a stakeholder in the agency and ensure a long-term partnership and transactions in the future.

Without doubt, such practices violate the crux of PR ethics. Though it may bring certain benefits in the short term, the agency will lose its prestige and reputation as well as the respect and trust of its peers forever. In the worst-case scenarios, it could even lead to criminal behavior.

The controversial practices emerging in Chinas PR industry will not be eliminated by simply placing blame or enacting penalties. …

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