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‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’. A qualitative study of ethical PR practice in the United Kingdom.

Jackson, D. and Moloney, K., 2019. ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’. A qualitative study of ethical PR practice in the United Kingdom. Public Relations Inquiry, 8 (1), 87 - 101.

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PR Inquiry ethics manuscript for web.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.


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DOI: 10.1177/2046147X18810732


The dynamics of ethical behaviour has long been a preoccupation of the Public Relations (PR) field, yet in the United Kingdom, there are few empirical studies of ethical practice to date. In this article – through interviews with 22 UK Public Relations practitioners (PRPs) in small and medium-sized enterprises – we address this empirical gap. We examine three dimensions of ethical practice: societal responsibilities, truth-telling and the role of professional bodies. In the literature, the PRP is often positioned as the ethical conscience of the corporation, but in Shakespeare’s words, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’. Our findings reveal a range of ethical standards, some of which would make professional bodies blush. Many PRPs aspire towards an ethical counsel role but lack agency in the face of commercial and organisational forces. Rather than challenge such forces and the system they are part of, participants talked of coping strategies. At the same time, practitioners flow between ethical identities, painting a fluid, complex and occasionally contradictory picture of ethical practice that does not fall neatly into ethical metanarratives. While deontological ethical frameworks (typically expressed through codes of conduct) have dominated the professional field, our findings suggest that for many practitioners, such codes remain distant. Findings are discussed within ongoing debates around professionalisation, professional identity and the political economy of PR work.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Codes of conduct ; Ethics ; Interviews ; Professional bodies ; Professional identity ; Professionalisation ; Public interest ; Truth ; Public relations
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:31742
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:07 Feb 2019 14:53
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:14


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