Ethics

04 October 2007

Oh, stick a Big Mac in it!

How's this for unscientific hogwash:

Fast food giant McDonald's continues to raise the ire of Australian parents, with the restaurant chain winning an award for the most manipulative food advertisement on television.

The award recognises the most manipulative food ad on television and is voted on by the 2900 members of the Parents Jury, a web-based forum for parents to voice their views and advocate for the improvement of children's food and physical activity environments.

Professor Boyd Swinburn from Deakin University said the result clearly highlighted the continuing frustrations parents had about toys being used as marketing gimmicks for unhealthy foods.

"The message is loud and clear. Parents are fed up having to contend with McDonald's enticing their children to want its food by using free toy giveaways," he said.

The message is loud and clear that the vast majority of parents who join a forum to advocate the improvement of children's food already hate McDonald's.

Talk about a skewed sample.

Professor Swinburn said food and drink companies often used clever wording and phrases in their ads to make their product sound healthier than it actually was.

And you, Prof, never use "clever" sampling to force an argument.

Did it occur, even for a nano second, to the journalists writing this tosh that this survey isn't worth a cold fry?

17 July 2007

Fraser condemns abuse of power

Australians All

The detention of Dr Haneef in Villawood Jail, the circumstances of which are explained in the article by Julian Burnside posted on this website today, raises an important question.

Where did the idea of the revocation of Dr Haneef’s visa come from? Did it originate in the Minister’s office? Did it originate in the Prime Minister’s office? Was it a police recommendation? Was it an Immigration Department recommendation? It had to be one of these, which one was it?

If it came from a political office it demonstrates clearly the extent to which politics has interfered with and distorted the Rule of Law, indeed brushed the Rule of Law aside. If it has come from the police or from the Immigration Department, it indicates the extent to which the “war on terrorism” has corroded our civil institutions and reversed in significant ways, the century’s old fight against an abuse of executive power. Which is it? We should all be concerned.

17 May 2007

Human beings are a resource

Ted Keating of Tallai in Queensland writes on the Sydney Morning Herald's letters page this morning about a reunion of former employees at a company he worked 10 years ago.

Ten years on, while many former employees are now highly paid executives within multinationals, they still reach back to something that mattered to them, something that felt good to be a part of - an unrestrained respect for the individual, whether they were an employee, a customer or a supplier.

The company stands as one of the finest examples I've seen of how fair work practices and inclusiveness bring benefits to both the employer and employee.

Read the whole letter here.

15 March 2007

Nutrition journal obesity review all froth and bubble

By Benjamin Haslem

From the Center for Media and Democracy

In its current issue, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition acknowledges that a review of soft drinks and obesity (which challenges links between the one and the other) was funded by the American Beverage Association. But the journal excludes information that one of the authors personally and professionally has had close ties to the beverage industry.

Read the whole thing here.

06 December 2006

Rolf regrets

Link: Rolf says sorry for Abo lyric | NEWS.com.au.

ROLF Harris has apologised for using racist language in the song that launched his career, Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.

Overdue but welcome and praiseworthy.

05 December 2006

Pharma sales and trust

Trusted Advisor Associates > Trust Matters.

The fact is, pharmaceutical sales costs are only high relatively—because their productivity has plummeted. The vast majority of sales calls don’t result in being seen by the doctor, and when they do, the average time is something like 90 seconds.

There are lots of reasons for this, but one stands out—the low level of trust in the relationship between rep and physician.


21 November 2006

Dell adopts WOMMA ethics

Media Culpa.

"Dell is becoming the largest company ever to formally adopt the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's (WOMMA's) code of ethics for online and blog communications".

Important in the light of the Edelman / Wal-Mart episode.

21 July 2006

Web censorship and surveillance in China

Link: RConversation: China, the Internet & Human Rights - a long analysis.

Amnesty International has released a report titled "Undermining Freedom of Expression in China." The report lays out an argument for the way in which Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google "have, through their actions, directly and admittedly contradicted their values and shared policies" by complying with Chinese government censorship policies - and in one case, surveillance demands. Amnesty makes a compelling argument that these three companies "are facilitating and sanctioning government censorship rather than challenging it," and suggests concrete steps that these companies "can and should take to enable them to act in accordance with international human rights norms."

As ever, and properly, those steps are about transparency. Its the same story be it astroturfing or censorship, organisations need to be willing to be honest about what they are doing. Where they are not, the first casualties are freedom and democracy.

20 July 2006

Black PR, white PR

It is reported from time to time that the PR industry’s image stinks. And it’s not news that there is considerable distrust of PR practitioners by their media cousins. Many journalists don’t try to hide their contempt for PR people – which can be attributed to a mixture of irritation and genuine concern about the dubious tactics that are sometimes employed.

Some of the tactics criticised by journalists present issues more perceptual than real, but others pose serious problems that need to be excised from PR root and branch.

The perceptual problems may be referred to as ‘grey PR’. While not necessarily unethical, these tactics need to be scrutinised before being employed. They include offering free trips to journalists, stunts presented as serious activities (‘Headache Awareness Week’), research designed for marketing purposes (‘why doctors think chocolate is better than chewing gum’) or what I term ‘white spin’ – arguments based on legitimately-held beliefs but that emphasise such views to the exclusion or diminution of others.

Grey PR is selective without being untruthful. It requires close ethical scrutiny before use.

Then there’s ‘black PR’, which is unambiguously unethical because it deliberately denies people the honest information they require to make reasonable decisions. In effect, black PR is a coercive force in society. And in denying proper information it can do harm.

It can take any of these forms:

§         Astroturfing. Phony grassroots campaigns initiated to provide the appearance of mass community action. The funding source of the astroturf campaign is hidden, as are its true motives, and therein lies its dishonesty.

§         Conflict of interest. A PR firm works for two organisations (often competitors) or on separate but related projects without disclosing the nature of its interest. In these situations it is not unusual for matters to arise that are counter to the best interests of one of the clients. There is no disclosure and the client does not realise the firm is serving two competing and conflicting interests.

§         Disinformation. Deliberately spreading information known to be false.

§         Third party techniques. Recruiting surrogates to hide a client's message behind someone else's face. Putting scripted messages in the mouths of seemingly independent spokespeople is deceptive.

§         Black spin. Disseminating untruths or half-truths where there should be accurate or fuller disclosure.

The antidotes to grey or black PR are the joint application of disclosure and ethical compliance. Disclosure is achieved through transparency – letting the real clients and objectives be known – and a sense of broad accountability to the society which provides the source of our well-being. Ethical compliance needs to be part of the culture of every PR company and, at an industry level, probably requires an external, independent body to monitor and enforce it.

In Australia, we have a body – the Public Relations Institute – that should be concerned to ensure the good reputation of the industry but which does not seem to be effective in this pursuit.

JWM quit the PRIA some years ago because we believed it was not transparent, did not communicate its affairs to members, failed to account for its decisions and was weak on compliance.

The PRIA’s recent limp effusion on astroturfing (see elsewhere in this blog), failing as it did to recognise either the existence of the current debate or the PRIA-supported event that triggered it, has only served to reinforce views that, in Australia and elsewhere, the industry is quite properly regarded with suspicion.

17 July 2006

Astroturfing down under

Follow this link for a blow by blow account of one of Australia’s most celebrated cases of astroturfing.

REPORTER: Fourteen months of digging and fierce legal battles in the courts finally pointed Seph Glew to the door of Australian shopping centre giants Westfield. Unhappily for its chairman Frank Lowy, in the very same month that he won Australia's highest honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia, for his services to the property industry and retailing, he was forced to publicly apologise for a series of clandestine campaigns against corporate rivals.

WESTFIELD STATEMENT: "We have been guilty of a lack of transparency and openness and that is a matter of great regret and embarrassment to the company."

06 June 2006

Business does not exist in a vacuum

In 1963, the free-market philosopher Milton Friedman described corporate social responsibility as "fundamentally subversive", writing that corporate responsibility is the pursuit of individual interest in an unrestrained market.

As organisations have grown, community standards have risen, and the Social Responsibility Study by AMP Capital Investors demonstrates that companies are beginning to recognise that they don’t exist in a vacuum. Stakeholders are increasingly demanding information regarding an organisation’s environmental, social and economic impact on society.

Michael Anderson, Head of Sustainable Funds at AMP Capital Investors, writes in The Age that we can trace the trend towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to changing grassroots attitudes at an individual level. He notes that the average person recycles more, has increased career mobility, and is more likely to be interested in socially responsible investment.

Additionally, it is important to note that companies are realising that it makes good business sense to embrace strategies which are socially responsible. The SustainAbility think tank’s Developing Value report found that these policies save costs, reduce revenues, reduce risk, build reputation, develop human capital and improves access to capital. Michael Anderson writes the AMP Capital Investors have found that high CSR companies outperformed low CSR companies by more than 3 percent over a full ten-year period.

Companies such as IAG write that "sustainability is neither a program nor an initiative, it's considered simply good management".  They recognise the link between their industries and the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of the communities in which they operate.

With power comes responsibility. Unilever has found that use of its products leads to the consumption of approximately one percent of the world’s fresh water used for domestic purposes. This reflects a global shift where organisations are able to leverage greater resources than governments. With globalisation and an increase in the power of multinational corporations, it it vital that organisations acknowledge the impact that their actions have on stakeholders and society as a whole.

19 May 2006

Media bribery research

Four years ago the International Public Relations Association launched a campaign to reduce unethical and illegal practices in the relationship between public relations professionals and the media. The result is a media transparency charter that has now been adopted by public relations practitioners in more than 100 countries.

Pioneering research in Poland to understand the problem of media bribery provided a benchmark and showed that Polish communication leaders often face media bribery. They are most concerned with indirect bribery such as publishing a news article in exchange for advertising or providing free samples or attractive discounts to journalists.

03 May 2006

EthicsCrisis.com

Here's a great new site. EthicsCrisis.com, that allows you to confess your transgressions anonymously and lets others rate them. Of course, some people (here and here) will probably think I could while away the hours posting to it - but I'm not giving anything away.

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05 January 2006

Ethics front of mind in PR

A recent New Zealand paper points out that, while the ethical transgressions of public relations practitioners are often high profile, the public perception that ethics is not a consideration of professional communicators is often unfair. The author of the paper concludes that communications professionals could do more to deal with public reservations about their ethics.

[Source: Susan Fountaine, ‘Communication Ethics’ in Frank Sligo and Ralph Bathurst, Communication in the New Zealand Workplace, Software Technology New Zealand Ltd, 2005]

17 December 2005

Columnist Resigns His Post, Admitting Lobbyist Paid Him

New York Times.

A senior scholar at the Cato Institute, the respected libertarian research organization, has resigned after revelations that he took payments from the lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for writing columns favorable to his clients.

For everyone who gets caught out, how many go unpunished?

06 December 2005

Debunking the global warming sceptics

Another one from my mailbag:

Kill a whale for conservation. Smoke a cigarette for respiratory health. Drive a Hummer into the pristine wilderness.

These messages are stupid and deSmogBlog.com thinks it’s high time somebody said so. DeSmogBlog is the brainchild of James Hoggan, one of Canada’s leading corporate public relations consultants, who says he’s mad as hell at the hucksters who are attacking the global consensus on climate change.
 
“There have been lots of times in the past 20 years when talented PR people have shilled for shady clients, but no case has been more outrageous than the complex, expensive and frighteningly high-quality effort to confuse the public about climate change,” Hoggan says. “I think it’s time somebody outed the PR industry. It’s time someone spelled out exactly what’s being done and by whom. This issue is much too important to leave to scoundrels.”

26 October 2005

Taking the easy, sleazy way out

A couple of months ago, NSW State Government Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, asserted that Sydneysiders would not drink recycled water. He even produced a survey to ‘prove’ it.

Now it turns out that, not only do plenty of Sydneysiders already drink water that is recycled after it flows back into dams and reservoirs, but, when they’re stopped on the street and asked to try it – they do. And they like it.

“If it is clean enough, pure enough and safe enough, yes, I'll drink it,” one passerby commented. “But I don't want to start drinking it and get sick. If we can be convinced it is safe I will drink it.”

The nub of this story is that the NSW Government is committed to building a desalination plant to avert Sydney’s growing water shortage. And, for some reason, it doesn’t want to listen to arguments that suggest recycled water may be a viable alternative.

Instead of communicating fairly and squarely with people to inform them about the merits – and safety - of recycled water, the Government announces its opposition to an option that – on a small scale – it already uses.

It’s another unfortunate example of the modern phenomenon of government’s not being willing to take people into their confidence.

Of using dubious techniques such as assertion, spin, disinformation and dodgy surveys to avoid the harder but ultimately more useful task of educating public opinion.

[Source: ‘Recycled water proves a fine drop’, Wendy Frew, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 October 2005]

23 September 2005

Of codes and ethics

Link: New Communications Blogzine

The latest issue of New Communications Blogzine focuses on the topic of ethics in professional communications and the impact of new communications tools on ethical considerations. One article explores a newly proposed code of ethics for the advertising industry, developed by Shona Seifert, the Ogilvy & Mather executive convicted of fraud. Seifert was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and was instructed to write a code of ethics for her profession.