Public relations and the tobacco industry: Examining the debate on practictioner ethics

Journal of Mass Media Ethics 13 (3):152 – 164 (1998)
Abstract
This study examines the moral and ethical arguments presented by public relations practitioners in online debate on the appropriateness of representing the tobacco industry or tobacco interests. It is a descriptive and inferential analysis of 21 e-mail messages posted during a 14-month debate on the PRForum, an online newsgroup for public relations professionals, applying Kohlberg's cognitive-development theory of moralization. Debate focused on the right of an organization to promote a legal product versus a practitioner's obligation to protect the welfare of society. Intensity of disagreement, and the inability to achieve consensus, suggests that personal ethical baselines are subjective, that practitioner perceptions of right or wrong are injluenced by their level of cognitive and moral development, and that codes of behavior of professional organizations are too ambiguous to use in dealing with complex ethical issues.
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