Reflections on Reading About Codes, Procedures and Standards in Communication Ethics

Judith Malveaux COMM 614

In Communication Ethics Literacy, I was intrigued by the explanation of codes, procedures and standards in communication ethics. However, as I read the examples illustrating these ideas, I wondered if the ambiguity and vagueness the communication professionals’ organizations that were cited fit the current roles and expectations of today’s successful communication professional. The book states that codes, procedures and standards define communication ethics guidelines by which conduct is evaluated, protecting and promoting the good of corporately agreed-upon regulations (50). It also states that organizations develop written codes of conduct to ensure common agreement on appropriate conduct. Codes of conducts from The Public Relations Society of America, The National Communication Association and the American Advertising Federation are discussed. What stands out to me is the idea that these organizations – populated with professionals who are trying to reach a less-captive, more diverse audience than ever – have codes about ethics in carrying out their job duties that may not reflect the demands of today’s market. For example, the National Communication Association Code of Professional Responsibilities for the Communication Scholar/Teacher includes information about integrity, fairness, professional and social responsibility and honesty and openness. Does that mean those professionals at companies proven to be unfair or lacking in integrity should quit? Does it mean that marketing to the 14year-old hormonal teen by using scantily clad supermodels is a savvy business move while simultaneously lacking integrity and, therefore, violating of the code? Who determines what lacks integrity? What is the litmus test for fairness? Does this code and the similar guidelines offered by the professional organizations help people truly understand how they should and should not conduct themselves as professionals or are they merely toothless guides offered to create the perception of ethics within these groups?

In the fast-paced, ever-changing world of social media, the internet and thousands of television channels grabbing at people’s attention, are these professional organizations setting unreasonable standards for practitioners who have to compete for consumers’ time, attention and money with thousands of others who are also dangling their shiny objects? I’m not asserting that ethical practices have to take a backseat, nor am I suggesting that unethical behavior is necessary in order to compete. However, those who market to or engage with a specific audience have to be honest about how to meet their consumers where they are and appeal to them in a way that will make them and/or their products stand out from the rest. Given the tastes of some of today’s consumer groups, engagement may include titillation or provocative campaigns that would have not been considered – or acceptable – a few decades ago. Perhaps codes should consider these realities and assist professionals in more career-applicable ways.

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