Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of the Arts


School of Communication and Media

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Todd Kelshaw

Committee Member

Christine A. Lemesianou

Committee Member

Harry W. Haines


This present historical moment is characterized, to a large extent, by ethical transgressions that pervade many institutions and sectors of society, including politics, industry, religion, entertainment, and media, among others - all of which are related to the functions of public relations. Public relations itself, though taught in the degree programs of numerous colleges and universities, suffers from a reputation such that the words PR ethics are considered an oxymoron or simply unfeasible by many. This study addressed several key issues central to this subject: Concepts of ethics regarding public relations; the role of education in influencing concepts of ethics; the application of ethics to public relations practice, including heuristic models of decision-making; and the primary ethical challenges of public relations practice today. This qualitative study was based in the naturalistic paradigm of research, and in philosophical ethics theory. The methods employed were the interview (triangulated among focus group interviews, E-interviews, and elite personal interviews), and the Rokeach Values Survey. Participants represented three populations - PR students, PR educators, and professional PR practitioners. There were several key findings from the student data: Student participants considered spin and related alteration of truth to be inherent and inevitable in public relations practice; They anticipated that their future careers in public relations would require them to live by two distinctly separate moral identities - self-determined personal ethics, and work ethics as determined by employers, clients, or the industry; and, They were unfamiliar with ethics philosophy, moral reasoning, or heuristic models of decision-making. Findings also showed variance among educators in the ethics content and pedagogy of public relations courses, and similarity about ethical perceptions among the professional public relations practitioners. The findings provided implications for future research which could further extend the objectives of this study.

File Format


Included in

Communication Commons