The only way is ethics?

My post on the late and not missed at all Max Clifford has attracted some interesting comments on Linked In.

Basically the comments remind me that he was a not very nice man who lied a lot, in case I hadn’t known that when I praised hs ability to steal a front-page splash.

I didn’t meet Clifford. I obviously didn’t work with him as my communications work and his were in very different places and of diverse flavours. From what I’ve heard I’m sure he was absolutely vile.

He also obviously (and making no secret of it) lied to get coverage.

Nobody ever believed that Freddie Star really ate a hamster, did they? In fact his lies were so outlandish and obvious, it is difficult to argue that he decided anybody.

Clifford was in the entertainment business and he entertained.

I mentioned Goebbels in my post. The man’s politics were objectionable and he also was no doubt a vile (albeit charming) man.

But he was one hell of a propagandist and I cannot fail to admire and respect his art, regardless of the consequences of it.

My views of him as a person do not cloud my opinion of his work. The same goes for Clifford – in a much more modest way. He was no Goebbels!

The other thrust of the commentary is to talk of the ethics of PR. I have written elsewhere on this blog about this. It’s an area of discussion I struggle with.

Frankly, I fail to see how ethics can ever be anything other than relative and subjective. Beyond not killing people, I’m not sure what is unethical in life.

Actually I can think of at least two good reasons to kill people within my ethical comfort zone. I am a supporter of euthanasia and the death penalty, so for me killing can be ethical too.

I’m struggling to think of something in PR practice that I would see as unethical other than an outright lie intending to deceive.

There are plenty of areas of work I would regard as personally ethically challenging.

For example I do not work for healthcare/pharma companies unless they can prove they do not engage in animal experimentation.

I would also not work for a property developer building on Green Belt land, or for most organisations concerned with building new infrastructure which I largely regard as being pointless.

I would not work for the government. I regard most things the state does as being unethical. I am an anti-statist libertarian and regard most if not all public sector work as potential for privatisation.

These are political judgements born of my own prejudices. Everybody has them to one degree or another, although I suspect that most people who work in PR do mot share mine.

What is odd in modern life is that a new generation of people generally, and working in PR in particular, seem to think that their own personal prejudices are universal values. My recent conversations regarding “a duty to the public” being a good demonstration of this.

I have no duty to the public or to society whatsoever. I only have a duty to myself and to whoever pays me.

This is a political judgement and one which informs and perverts ethics. All ethics in my view are relative. Indeed everything is relative, particularly the question of truth.

In my working life supporting employers and clients through crises, I can’t think of a single occasion when I have ever known the absolute truth, if indeed there is such a thing.

I have known what others think or pretend is the truth. I have noted that in most crisis situations these perceptions of the truth are rapidly changeable and infinitely flexible.

I have known what I thought at one time or another might be a relative truth. I think that’s the best we can hope for.

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