New papers


I have a couple of new publications available online:

1) Interpreting ethics: Public relations and strong hermeneutics, in exciting new journal Public Relations Inquiry




This article suggests that public relations’ inadequate engagement with the complexities of ethical theory has contributed to public loss of trust in its activities. Instead of blaming this on publics, communicators could take more responsibility for their professional ethics. The author suggests that a hermeneutic approach to ethics opens up a new area for debate in the field. Public relations ethics have traditionally drawn on the major approaches of deontology (Kant) and consequentialism (Bentham and Mill), with marginal reference to the more recent revival of Aristotelian virtue ethics (MacIntyre, 1984), an approach that shifts attention from ethical action to ethical agent. Thus discussion of ethics in public relations literature (Fitzpatrick and Bronstein, 2006; S. A. Bowen, 2007; McElreath, 1996) concentrates on rational approaches to ethical decision making, based (respectively) in marketplace theory, Kantian approaches or systems theory. In these and other writings, there is an emphasis, as is common in approaches to professional ethics, on external rule-based ethics rather than attempts to focus on inner processes to assess ethical implications of practice. This article argues that as concepts of professionalism shift and buckle under global economic and social pressures, it might be timely to look less to systems and more to human experience for ethical guidance. A hermeneutic approach, drawing on the philosophy of interpretation developed in recent decades by thinkers such as Gadamer, Habermas and Riceour, offers an alternative, inner, path to an ethics drawn from the search for shared meaning.

The article starts with a brief overview of the current state of public relations ethics, suggesting a reliance on somewhat superficial codes for guidance and the absence of reflexivity in ethical debates; it then introduces concepts from hermeneutics and its main schools or approaches, with a particular focus on hermeneutic ethics. Finally, the article links the two topics to show how ‘strong’ hermeneutic ethics might contribute to greater reflexivity in public relations ethics. It aims to shift the ethical debate away from notional reliance on codes and external guidance towards a deeper ethic. The approach taken is broadly critical (Hall, 1980; Heath, 1992) and is itself interpretative, making the article doubly-hermeneutic (Giddens, 1984) in both form and content.

2) Cultural complexes in professional ethics, in the Jungian Scholarly Studies Journal (backdated to 2010, when it should have been published)



In creating a Jungian perspective on professional ethics, this paper suggests
that professions create ethical statements and codes predicated on idealized selfimages and fail to engage with the shadow aspects of the occupational group. A
brief survey of approaches to the study of professional ethics illustrates divergent
attitudes to professions in general, with some scholars (Durkheim, for example)
considering their function as stabilizing influences in society and others (broadly
following Weber) who find professional claims to be self-serving and empty. An
overview of literature suggests most professional ethics offer greater support for
the latter than former view, though discussions on Asian, discourse, and virtue
ethics have influenced thinking in this field in recent years. This discussion offers a
space for a Jungian contribution to the field of professional ethics, one that has not
been suggested before despite the obvious parallels between the idealized image
and a Jungian persona, with the disowned aspects of practice relegated to the
shadow dimensions. As most approaches to professional ethics, particularly as
embodied in codes, are constructed around such persona images, I argue that they
are too partial to be ethical in any deep sense. Indeed, they thrive on claims of
moral superiority while rejecting deviant members of the group as Other, as “bad
apples”, despite Zimbardo’s (2007) evocation of “bad barrels.”
It explores the tensions in professional ethics, conceptualizes professions as
psychic entities with the potential to integrate shadow material, and suggests how
such a Jungian approach might form the foundation of a new ethic. Finally, this
paper considers the implications of such an approach for the particular profession

More online and offline papers due shortly – the introductory article (with Kevin Moloney) to a special issue of PRISM on PR and power; and a piece on competing identities in PR ethics in Public Relations Review, details to follow.

Thoughtfulpiece from photojournalism lecturer on ethics involved in taking and using images, prompted by Sienna Miller’s testimony to Leveson. Agree with her rejection of the usual defences – ‘we made her what she is’ or ‘we’re not like paparazzi’ – and the call for the profession as a group to reflect on practice. Exactly.


Leveson inquiry

State of UK media

Good piece from Steve Hatchett on state of UK media, as expoosed by Leveson and as familiar to most journalists forever. As a v young, enraged student I collared friends of my mother who, like her, worked for the Express and other Fleet Street tabloids about media responsibility. The answers usually included  ‘it’s only a job’; ‘if it didn’t sell papers we wouldn’t do it;’ to ‘ it’s only entertainment’ – all pretty weaselly ways of off-loading moral ownership.  Same people often fancied the ‘seeker-after-truth’ image of journalism – another interesting example of ethical identities at work.

Currently working on a paper on professional identities and their impact on ethics – some strong case material here.


Will re post series of blogs from PRSA concerning teaching and practice of ethics in US.



Observation that PR students accept lying as norm is interesting. Remember it being seen as quite OK for students on placements to pretend to be researching for the university when it was for the agency  - their first experience of PR work involved misrepresentation, damaging them, the university and the agency/employer. All without comment or censure. This experience, several years ago, and the sense that to complain would jeopardise student opportunities,  started my research. Wonder whether it will come up in Australia?

Excellent piece (link below), expressing more clearly than I could, that sense that this is playing out an inner drama, that it comes from the collective – the bemusement of individuals asked about their actions on Radio 4  Today this am illustrates the ‘caught in the current’ imperative. Must remember this when I come to write a bigger thing about marketing and culture. Not to underestimate the idiocy of destroying your own community (another trope shared by bankers/oil industry etc) – but to demonstrate how cultural complexes can get acted out in the real world – the phrase ‘violent shopping’ seems particularly apt.


shopocalypse now

The focus of the unfolding stories – and the scope of the Levenson Inquiry, so far – has been on the relationship between the tabloid press, the police and politicians. As this article from PR Week illustrates, PR people lurk at every junction of this network.

PR in hacking story

This is not surprising as the story concerns exchanges of power between key players, the power to reveal or withhold private information; to support or oppose media legislation; and in the case of the police, the power to promote the Met and/or and particular factions within it. Each group can be seen as maximising their interests at the expense of others – again illustrating the conflict between the ethical claims to serve society promoted by all the players’ professional codes and the much dirtier rules of advocacy followed in practice.

Today’s PR week reports on Rebekah Brooks’ hiring of PR services to handle the Sara Payne hacking allegations…

Brooks’ PR


this story goes on and on and the PR role’s barely been touched.



NOTW reflections

Suzanne Moore has written an interesting piece about the political/police/media nexus exposed in recent weeks: Suzanne Moore on spin She echoes thoughts I’ve been having over the past amazing fortnight.:

  • everyone is calling for new/better ethics. No one has the faintest idea what might constitute such ethics – what approach do they recommend? Utilitarian, deontological, virtue-based? The level of discussion remains painfully abstract. Professional ethics have offered no brake on the behaviour of journalists or police involved in these stories.
  • The focus is shifting from the actions of individuals to collective issues, the culture of a news room or multinational. This ties with my research that shows most professional ethics blames individuals and avoids collective responsibility wherever possible. Today’s Observer reports the Catholic Church’s legal attempt to deny responsibility for priests’ abuse on the technical grounds that they are not Church employees.
  • The person who embodies the ethical conflicts in the NOTW story is Paul McMullen, the former deputy features editor who was shredded by Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan, Paxo and anyone else who lined up in a TV studio – to which he kept turning up in a series of attempts both to exonerate and blame himself. Sometimes his defence was ‘ we were after the truth’, evoking the archetypal journalist as truth seeker and public defender. When people gawped at such a justification of phone hacking, he offered the other old card ‘ just entertainment’, a line I remember from old Fleet Street days when I would attack my mother’s Daily Express colleagues. He seemed anguished though, someone knowing the inadequacy of his position and thus illustrating the terrible damage done to those who follow organisational ethical norms but violate something deeper, more personal.





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