Council of Ethics for Communication
The Council of Ethics for Communication addresses ethical issues, acts in an advisory capacity to its constituent organizations and promotes good practices in professional communication. The constituent organizations of the Council adhere to the Communication Code of Ethics.
Duties and tasks
The Council is responsible for devising and maintaining the Communication Code of Ethics. The constituent organizations of the Council adhere to the Communication Code of Ethics and promote the Code within the activities of their membership.
In its Statements of Opinion, the Council assesses the ethical appropriateness of practices in the field of professional communications at a general level. The Council does not pass judgment concerning the engagement, in such practices, of an individual or an organization. The Statements of Opinion of the Council are founded on the Communication Code of Ethics.
The Council sustains discussion on the ethics of professional communication. The Chair of the Council may present public comments and appraisals concerning current issues and topics after consulting with the other members of the Council.
The Council presents recommendations for professional communication and provides counsel to the Boards of its constituent organizations. The Council does not engage in commercial activities.
With respect to its tasks, the Council receives information and questions from the members of its constituent organizations, and information from the public. The Council forms opinions and responses at its own discretion.
The Council has 8-10 members elected by the Council.
One member and a substitute member is elected at the recommendation of each constituent organization. The remaining members represent research, education and expertise within professional communication and other fields relevant to the Council’s activities.
The term of a member is two years with a maximum of two terms. The Council elects a Chair and a Vice-Chair from among its membership.
VEN 2015/1 – Communication concerning a client or a client’s competitor without disclosure of business relationship
1. Cases and issues
The following examples of communication practices have been brought to the attention of the Council:
- In numerous messages posted from his/her Twitter account, a communications consultant has presented criticism of a key competitor of his/her corporate client.
- A communications consultant has praised his/her own client in messages posted from his/her Twitter account. The business relationship between the consultant and the client has not been disclosed in the messages, on the consultant’s Twitter profile, or in other materials readily accessible for the public.
Should a communications professional praise a client or criticize the competitor of a client without disclosing the business relationship? In social media, communication is often technically limited. Should a business relationship be disclosed even on Twitter?
The Council does not make decisions concerning individuals or corporations, but assesses the practices of which the cases act as examples as well as the ensuing ethical questions. The Council’s statements are based on the Communication Code of Ethics. In the assessment of the cases described, the Council finds the following Codes to be relevant:
The communications professional:
- explicitly discloses the involvement of an employer or a client in the content of a message or publication pertaining to them
- openly discloses his or her pertinent interests, ties and obligations
Pertinent ties and obligations entail such interests that are relevant to the public’s assessment of the content of a message. A business relationship between a professional and a client is such a tie, if the content of the message is due to this relationship. Principally, this is the case when the communication had not taken place in the absence of that relationship.
The relevant ties and obligations have been effectively disclosed at least when the text of a message, a signature or the social media profile of a communications professional includes an expression of a business or employment relationship, or when such a relationship is otherwise evident from the context. A communications consultant with numerous clients may find it technically difficult to list all such business relationships. However, technical limitations do not cancel the duty to disclose ties and obligations at least when the communication is considered as whole.
3. Statement of opinion
In both example cases, the communication in question would not have occurred without the business relationship, which is thus pertinent in the assessment of its content, and should have been disclosed. The brief form of Twitter communication entails that even pertinent ties and obligations cannot be expressed in every message. However, they must be disclosed in the whole of the communication. In neither of the examples is this requirement met. The Council finds the communication practices described in examples (a) and (b) to be out of accordance with the Communication Code of Ethics.