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Chapter 3: Legal and Ethical Guidelines

February. 2. 2010.

Public Relations: Writing and Media Techniques

by Dennis L. Wilcox

Examples of Legal Problems

  • Disseminating information that a court or regulatory agency finds misleading, untrue, or damaging
  • Participating in an illegal action
  • Counseling or guiding policy to accomplish an illegal action

Libel and Slander

  • According to the AP Stylebook, “Libel is injury to reputation.”
  • If the statement is made to a third person but neither printed nor broadcast, it may be slander.
  • How a jury proves libel:
  1. The statement was published to others by print or broadcast
  2. The plaintiff was identified or is identifiable
  3. There was actual injury in the form of money losses, impairment of reputation, humiliation, or mental anguish and suffering
  4. The publisher of the statement was malicious or negligent

Fair Comment Defense

  • Opinions have a degree of legal protection under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects the freedom of speech.
  • This is known as fair comment privilege.

Copyright Law

  • The purpose of a copyright is to secure the creator of original material all the benefits earned by creating it.
  • The Copyright Term Extension Act, passed in 1998 and reaffirmed by the US Supreme Court in 2003, protects original material for the life of the creator plus 70 years for individual works and 95 years from publication for copyrights held by corporations


Trademark Law

  • A trademark is legally protected and should be capitalized whenever it is used.
  • It is a valuable asset that is zealously guarded by its owners.

Guidelines for Ethical Conduct

  • Core Values of PRSA (Public Relations Society of America)
  1. Advocacy- We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.
  2. Honesty- We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advance in the interests of those we represent and in communication with the public.
  3. Expertise- We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience.
  4. Independence- We are accountable for our actions.
  5. Loyalty- We are faithful to those that we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.
  6. Fairness- We respect the right all opinions and support the right of free expression.
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