Why should there be ethics in communication


The article outlines ethical guidelines for media and corporate communication. The spectrum ranges from journalism and public relations to advertising. In addition, normative demands on online communication are shown.

1. The relevance of responsible business ethics

Applied ethics has the task of reflection and control in cases of morally questionable developments. It is about an open debate with arguments and justifications in order to provide criteria within the framework of a discursive procedure and to solve specific problems (Schicha & Brosda 2010). Business ethics should make a systematic contribution to the assessment of potential moral misconduct and refer to a philosophically founded system of categories that formulates normative criteria for the appropriate handling of communicative content and makes clear assignments of responsibility.

Companies are expected to be aware of their social responsibility and to observe and communicate ecological and social requirements in addition to economic profit targets. Corresponding action is subsumed under the term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) (Karmasin & Weder 2008; Raupp et al. 2010, Rademacher 2010). One of the tasks of business ethics is to anticipate the side effects of economic activity with foresight and to deal with questions of weighing up interests in the face of competing normative and economic claims. The task of corporate ethics is not to establish and develop moral principles to which a corporation has to subordinate itself. Rather, in terms of practical handling, it should be shown how economic and moral standards can be reconciled with one another in business practice. Due to the negative effects that the company can cause, it is responsible for its actions or omissions, even if the negative consequences, for example in the area of ​​air pollution or the storage of waste, will only come to bear for future generations.

The ethics of responsibility therefore focuses on the assessment of the consequences of actions (Förg 2004; Schranz 2007). Business enterprises are in the focus of public interest and are subject to permanent monitoring by the media. A bad image or a scandal can permanently destroy the reputation and thus also endanger the existence of the company (Althaus et al. 2005). In this respect, it is of central importance that companies are aware of their social responsibility and also communicate this openly. The assumption of responsibility represents the fulfillment of claims to keep promises for a public reference group. Not only the state (legality) and the market (competition) are responsible for compliance with ethical rules, but also the companies themselves (Karmasin 2010). Different levels of responsibility can be separated from one another. First of all, the individual employee is independently responsible for his or her actions at all levels in the company (individual ethical responsibility). At a further level, companies can use the specifications of self-regulating bodies such as the PR Council (Avenarius & Bentele 2009) or the Advertising Council (Deutscher Werberat 2012) to set their own guidelines that stipulate responsible communicative action by the company (group responsibility). Furthermore, there are internal company guidelines, management principles, company constitutions and business principles, some of which already specify normative guidelines in the employment contracts of their employees (contractual responsibility). Such requirements such as transparency and respect can be found, for example, in the guidelines of the beverage company Coca-Cola (Fink et al. 2012). Finally, there are a number of consumer protection organizations that are classified as advocates for clients. The spectrum ranges from consumer advice centers to Greenpeace to Food-Watch (“watchdog” responsibility).

This differentiation is of central importance in order to offer opportunities to address attributions of responsibility and action orientations in the ethical assessment of areas of conflict in concrete practice and to show interdependencies and similarities between the various levels in the sense of a division of labor. In practice, it is not important to set ethical values, but to organize decision-making processes for specific alternative courses of action. A distinction has to be made as to whether companies only signal responsibility if they hope to benefit from it in the understanding of an exchange transaction or if they show a fundamentally proactive social commitment that goes far beyond compliance with the law. Only then will it be documented that companies face their social responsibility within society in addition to their economic tasks. Acting in this way is usually not altruistic, but also serves as a strategic communication tool to secure the acceptance of the company internally and externally (Schicha 2010).

2. Tasks of PR ethics

The PR ethics focus on commissioned communication by commercial enterprises, associations and non-profit organizations. For decades, abstract categories such as credibility, trust, truthfulness and transparency have played a central role as ethical models in ethical debates (Graf Zedtwitz-Arnim 1961). The fact that PR ethics is fundamentally necessary is not disputed either in professional practice or in academia, since the press and public are often viewed as a profession that works with unfair, manipulative, unbelievable and dubious methods (Röttger et al. 2011; Bentele 2005). It is assumed that in many cases information is withheld, whitewashed or communicated too late and that the required transparency is therefore lacking. Rather, there is an observable discrepancy between information and facts. Delaying tactics and diversionary maneuvers are the order of the day. In this respect, trust in PR work is usually limited. At the same time, the PR experts have the task of communicating as mediators between the organizations they work for and the sub-publics to whom information is conveyed in such a way that mutual understanding, acceptance and trust can be achieved (Förg 2004). In this context, however, it should not be overlooked that public relations workers are primarily committed to the company they work for. Nevertheless, the public has the right to be informed comprehensively and truthfully. In contrast to journalism, PR, which is centered on self-portrayal, does not primarily have the task of reporting from an independent point of view investigatively and doing its own research in this regard. "However, PR practitioners do not have to fulfill the journalistic tasks of comprehensive and balanced reporting as well as criticizing grievances." (Förg 2004: 180)

There is an ethically relevant area of ​​tension between journalism and public relations, which is expressed in the motto “Journalists do not do PR”. This statement can be found in the guidelines of the Netzwerk Recherche (Netzwerk Recherche & Schnedler 2011). It sparked a controversial public discussion. It is criticized that freelance journalists also work in PR and write press releases for commercial enterprises. However, this is only permitted if the PR reports are identified by name and the journalistic work concentrates on the areas that do not overlap with the PR activities in order to avoid conflicts of interest. A distinction must therefore be made between journalism, which has the task of providing the public with comprehensive and independent information, and PR, which is obliged to its client and has to represent the interests of the company. It is also true that journalists have to adhere to editorial guidelines and can also get into a conflict of interest with the economic requirements of their medium if they report critically about an advertiser who may then withdraw his advertisements. In principle, commercial companies that place advertisements should of course not have any influence on the reporting. Another fundamental problem is the adoption of PR material without specifying the source for an editorial contribution. This requires particular care and transparency on the part of the journalists responsible. Overall, there are dependencies in journalism and PR (Brosda & Schicha 2002). PR practitioners are also subject to economic power structures and constraints that make morally impeccable action difficult (Förg 2004).

As paid communication, PR has the task of continuously and systematically strengthening the company's reputation. In this respect, public relations is an interest-driven undertaking that pursues goals that benefit the company or organization. This also applies to the PR of non-profit organizations, new social movements or political parties, as a positive image through credible PR in these areas can positively influence the willingness to donate or vote. In this respect, it can be stated that public relations work corresponds to clear goals and specifications that are specified by the client. Nevertheless, there are fundamental normative categories that PR must adhere to. This includes the professional conveyance of information that corresponds to the facts. It is important to create a positive image that not only benefits the company in the short term, but also in the medium and long term.
Basically, it is helpful to fall back on theoretical models that offer normative standards of PR based on ethical criteria.

2.1. PR in discourse

When looking at the theoretical conceptions of applied ethics, the basis for PR ethics is discourse-theoretical drafts of communicative ethics that include participatory and emancipatory principles of justice. When orienting towards discourse ethical principles, the rational consensus finding, the right to have a say and the participation of customers and employees as well as the public are at the center of interest. The aim of a discursive procedural conception is to bring out the normative power of communicative ethics on a pragmatic level of improving the institutional and personal prerequisites for rational communication processes. Instead of ready-made solutions by management, communication processes are provided. The application of communicative ethics has shown that interpersonal communication results in social binding forces and norms that act as a control instrument in practice and can theoretically function as the basis for the justification of ethics, since the validity and negotiation of norms within the framework of communication processes to play an important role. Justice and respect are the constitutive principles that can be concretized in the field of media and communication ethics through the norms of general freedom of speech and expression (tolerance and diversity requirement), freedom and fairness of information (basic services and accessibility) as well as the informational self-determination and attribution (autonomy and responsibility). In addition to these normative postulates on interpersonal communication processes, content guidelines are required in order to develop a business ethical concept. Mutual understanding and acceptance between the organization and the public is important, based on a dialogical process and based on conviction instead of persuasion in order to build trust (Förg 2004).

Ideally, within the framework of public relations work, a symmetrical dialogue between the company and the public can be postulated that is based on consensus (Grunig & Hunt 1984). According to a normative model based on the model of an ideal speech situation according to Habermas (1987), a dialogue should arise that is constructive and goal-oriented, includes all interests equally and requires the same level of information of the participants in the discussion. At the level of the discourse, no contradicting statements should be made. Allegations must be justified, and in an ideal-typical understanding, all those affected should take part in the equal-opportunity discourse process. Habermas assumes that it is only through dialogue that it can be clarified whether a norm can be subject to consensus. The maxims must therefore be subject to the discursive examination and the universalization claim of all other participants. This procedural ethics is about arriving at generally applicable norms through discursive examination with the help of the collective understanding process. The correctness claims are not made on the basis of a content-related principle, but only on the basis of the factual or potential consent of all parties concerned. The discourse-theoretical formulation of the principle of universalization applies, which states that a controversial norm can only be approved by the participants in the discourse if the recognition of the factual and potentially affected is guaranteed. According to Habermas, the establishment of norms and commandments requires the implementation of a real discourse. It is a matter of formulating and justifying convincing arguments with a claim to validity. The arguments should be examined for their normative correctness. The establishment of moral principles in terms of content is rejected in discourse ethics. All moral contents are discussed in real or simulated discourses in order to arrive at a review of raised or competing validity claims. The equality of the participants in the argument is assumed as well as equal opportunities to speak without exercising coercion. The basis of the practical discourse is the idea of ​​a community of reasonably arguing participants in the discourse who endeavor to reach a consensus in the event of conflicting validity claims. The aim of the discourse is to achieve discursive agreement. The application of Habermas' ethical discourse approach to public relations is the focus of the considerations of Burkhart and Probst (1991). The terms that appear in the theoretical considerations, such as understanding, dialogue with those affected and consensus, represent goals that can also be used as a basis for public relations work. In this understanding, PR is understood as a profession that can contribute to optimizing social understanding. It is intended to ensure that an agreement is reached between the company and the interests of those affected with regard to the subjects of trust in the company and the legitimacy of the interests represented. In order to be able to lead the discourse between the company and the public, the necessary information about the issue to be dealt with is required in a first phase. The dialogue begins in a second phase at the latest. In a third phase, the discourses, in which an agreement that has become problematic, is to be restored by giving reasons, are carried out, whereby the best argument can serve as the basis for a decision.

If a discursive model of business ethics is assumed, it can be assumed that there is room for maneuver in entrepreneurial behavior that is not completely determined by the constraints of the market, competition and the price system. The ultimate goal is to achieve a reconciliation of economic and ethical reason through his conception of a discursive ethics of responsibility in the company. The ideal dialogue should also be realized in the company. The prerequisite for this is the participation of all those affected, who can bring their needs and values ​​into the dialogue, the equality of opportunity for the arguments without the exercise of coercion and the impartiality of all communication participants towards the arguments of the others. Although the ideal dialogue can never be achieved in real life, company executives can also help ensure that its role model is adopted in the design of communication relationships. Since economic decisions are made under time pressure, it is not possible to reach a consensus with every single person concerned. Therefore, majority decisions made by some company representatives, such as members of a general meeting, must be tolerated. Nevertheless, the dialogue with those affected should be carried out on as many levels as possible. In order to ensure that they have a say in the decisions that are relevant to them, fundamental rights are to be created in practice so that they can bring their legitimate claims into the decision-making process. The company representative should be ready to put himself in the position of the various claimants in order to understand their wishes and needs.In addition, the recognition of the autonomy of the other should be assumed as well as the attempt to grasp the potential alternative courses of action from the position of others.

In practice, the model of a discursive PR ethics can only be implemented to a limited extent. As a rule, the information booth is designed so that PR professionals have more knowledge of the state of their organization than the general public. An authentic appearance of the public relations worker in the understanding of an unfiltered and transparent presentation of all figures, data and facts cannot be expected from PR. What is communicated, however, should correspond to the facts. The appreciative respect from the point of view of the other is just as indispensable as the fundamental dialogue orientation of the debate and a ban on manipulation (Förg 2004). In fact, corporate communication always involves discourses that are guided by interests. If mutual understanding for the respective positions can be achieved between the company and the public, the PR has achieved its goal. The different interests on both sides should ultimately flow into the dialogue. Public relations work primarily has a coordinating, mediating and moderating function. The main focus should be on persuasion rather than persuasion.

2.2. PR codes

The initiative of media self-regulatory bodies such as the German Council for Public Relations or the Advertising Council is also due to the fact that legalization by the legislature should be avoided. Self-control is preferred to external control by the state. Due to the negative historical experience with state control in Germany, media self-control is the better alternative to regulation. Nevertheless, it is important that sanctions such as reprimands receive a broader public response and that those employed in advertising and public relations already have profound knowledge of the instances within the framework receive their training. In addition, self-control should be active in the event of misconduct in relation to one's own guidelines and not just review public submissions (Baum et al. 2005).

PR codes have the task of developing a set of rules that specifies specific standards for PR work (Bentele 2005). The aim is to create a set of instruments that shows guidelines and focuses on potential misconduct. Codes are used to indicate standards by which the profession should orient itself in order to meet justified claims on the basis of concrete values ​​and culture-independent moral principles. The inviolability of human dignity appears as a fundamental benchmark in numerous codes. However, this term is not easy to operationalize. In this respect, individual decisions are always required in the case of specific conflicts in the context of corporate communication in order to implement morally appropriate actions. The credibility of corporate communications is always the focus of public attention. It is expected that information about company policy will be provided openly and honestly. This in itself is a central ethical standard that must be observed. In this respect, it is important to document a corresponding set of rules that also gives the PR guidelines on how appropriate ethical action is to be achieved in this profession (Avenari-us 1998).

In the context of PR, a number of codes have emerged in which guidelines for ethically appropriate behavior in the context of press and public relations work have been developed (Avenarius & Bentele 2009). These include generalizable deontological norms that are very general, such as respect for human rights and the truth, the acquisition of trust and the right to freedom of expression. The codes include the Code d’Athenes, the Code de Lisabonne and the principles of the German Public Relations Society. These codes are still hardly known to PR practitioners (Förg 2004).

Looking at the specific content, it can be seen that the Code d’Athenes, as an international ethical guideline for public relations, claims human rights and human dignity as the central value base for PR experts. In addition, a free flow of information is postulated as well as action that enables trust in press and public relations work. It is also required that promises and obligations are kept. The truth should be subordinated to other claims. Information that has no clear source of information should not be disseminated. Any form of manipulation is prohibited. The Code de Lisbonne also insists on respecting the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” within the framework of general rules of professional conduct. In particular, the principle of freedom of expression as well as freedom of the press and the media are emphasized. Sincerity, moral integrity and loyalty are formulated as additional ethical categories. Specific norms of behavior against contractors and employees refer, among other things, to discretion. Professional secrecy is to be respected. Confidential information may not be passed on without consent. Any form of deception is prohibited. There are DRPR guidelines for dealing with journalists, which address the appropriate handling of press gifts and invitations. Additional guidelines discuss the maintenance of contacts in the political arena and postulate a transparency requirement for one's own role and the client, as well as honesty with regard to confidential information. Further normative requirements relate to only disseminating relevant information that is newsworthy. In principle, misleading the public should be avoided. Surreptitious advertising is strictly prohibited. (German Council for Public Relations 2007). The overall task of the codes is to systematically record and communicate normative guidelines for the profession.

A German communication code was recently issued by the German Council for Public Relations (2012), in which target values ​​such as transparency, integrity, fairness, truthfulness, loyalty and professionalism were formulated for PR and communication professionals. Here, explicit reference is made to the responsibility for the professional qualification of this professional group. The corresponding guiding principles must therefore also be conveyed in training and further education.

3. Ethics of Advertising

The task of advertising is to generate information about products in order to be able to show the responsible consumer options for comparison and alternatives when choosing a product. This rarely happens in practice. In fact, the presentation of clichés and stereotypes is often in the foreground (Holtz-Bacha 2011). In this respect, advertising has a bad image overall. The credibility of product promotions is limited, as it is usually less about information and more about creating positive associations and emotions for the incentive to buy. No comprehensive and credible representation of special properties of the advertised property is conveyed. Rather, the consumer should be motivated to make a purchase decision. It's about persuading instead of convincing. For decades, critical media theory and consumer criticism have assumed that consumers are manipulated by advertising (Schmidt 2004). The beautiful appearance suggests a dream world that is not even rudimentary in practice. Things are advertised that in many cases are not needed at all. Needs are suggested to consumers that do not even exist. "Advertising seeks to manipulate, it works insincere and assumes that this is a precondition." (Luhmann 1996: 85) This thesis by Luhmann sums up the central criticism of commercial advertising. False advertising messages correlate with dishonest advertisers, so the allegation. The pretense of false facts when promoting products and services does not seem to be the exception but the rule in advertising. There are different ways of manipulation (Schweiger & Schrattenegger 2005). The most common form is surreptitious advertising. Here the advertising intent is to be camouflaged. In the case of subliminal advertising in films, the stimuli are shown so briefly that they are not consciously perceived.

Overall, commercial product advertising has a bad image. This also results from the fact that advertising campaigns for addictive substances such as cigarettes and alcohol as well as the use of hidden advertising in particular cause controversial debates about the ethical limits of permissible advertising and its forms (Bartoschek & Wolff 2010). The increasing flood of advertising on all media channels calls for new strategies to attract the attention of potential buyers. Because only what is perceived has the chance to be used strategically by companies for product sales. At the same time, it is also very risky to provoke the consumer with controversial advertising, as this can also create a defensive attitude (reactance) that does not lead to the product in question being purchased. In this respect, the question arises as to where the morally permissible limits of advertising lie and which rules must be observed.

Advertising ethics deals with the moral appropriateness of product information, whereby less strict standards are applied here than with the press and the public. The fact that advertising is one-sidedly aimed at presenting the positive characteristics of the corresponding products is usually not further discussed. However, this happens when in some cases inapplicable health promises are propagated, which can be refuted on closer examination. In this respect, advertising can exaggerate, but not lie.
In order for products to gain public acceptance, advertising must adhere to ethical standards so that the desired purchasing behavior can be achieved. Ethics debates always have an important social component that should be strategically addressed by companies. If ecological standards play a central role in advertising campaigns, taking up such ethically relevant trends can have advantages over competitors who do not adequately take these requirements into account (Zurstiege 2007). For advertising, the focus is on the sale of a specific product or service. It relies more on emotions and sales incentives and sometimes exaggerates the product benefits. It works with paid advertisements in the print media, as well as spots in the radio and various facets on the Internet, from banner advertising to competitions. Companies use advertising options on social networks to retain customers who buy the products on offer. Advertising represents the professionally planned attempt to publicly influence the opinion and behavior of people through special communication media and techniques in order to achieve economic goals. Strategically oriented media offers and events are intended to attract the advertising target group's attention to the products, services and messages on offer and ultimately motivate them to make a purchase decision. Advertising functions as a constitutive characteristic of a market economy, which, according to its ideal-typical claim, relies on the free play of supply and demand. In this understanding, it relies on market transparency and thus provides consumer information. Commercial advertising serves to grant freedom of trade and freedom of expression. The aim is to use them as a strategic communication variant through a consumer appeal in such a way as to motivate the consumer to buy the advertised products and services. The creative spectrum of product advertising is huge. The child schema can be used to arouse protective instincts in the consumer. Erotic signals are set in order to arouse positive associations in the recipient. Or it is worked with elements of compassion when hardship and misery are shown as part of donation campaigns at non-profit organizations. The goal is to get the prospect's attention in a world of constant overstimulation. In doing so, models and models are used that reflect the wishes, hopes and dreams of potential customers.

3.1. Advertising versus PR

There are now a number of innovative forms of advertising that aim to attract the attention of recipients. A mixture of PR and advertising can often be seen here (Volpers et al. 2008):

• With product PR, companies try to put information about their offers in the editorial section of the media.
• In theme PR, institutions or organizations actively advertise in order to place their representatives in the media.
• With PR programming, TV broadcasters and PR drivers create a joint program.
• With PR bartering, PR drivers are given broadcasting slots for externally produced PR contributions.
• In event PR, PR drivers stage events that are reported in the media.

One goal of such activities can be to obscure the advertising message. It is therefore imperative that the sources of such material be made transparent, if it is used. The limit to surreptitious advertising can also be exceeded here (Bartoschek & Wolff 2010).

3.2. Sponsorship

There are forms of program or program sponsorship on television that do not include traditional commercials. This means that there is no need to comply with any regulations with regard to the prescribed duration of advertising per hour or the prohibited broadcasting after 8 p.m. for public television broadcasters. The following forms can be identified here (Volpers et al. 2008):

• With program sponsorship, entire programs are supported by the product of a certain manufacturer.
• In label sponsoring, for example, kitchen products are advertised by the manufacturer in cooking shows.
• In event sponsoring, sports programs, for example, are co-financed by a fitness chain.
• In the case of title sponsorship, the name of the product is already mentioned in the broadcast title. For example, formats such as Süddeutsche TV (Vox), stern TV (RTL) or c’t magazin (HR, MDR, rbb) are available.
• In the case of equipment sponsorship, moderators, for example, are equipped with clothing from special fashion companies. This is then made clear by specific displays during the broadcast or in the credits.
• In the cases outlined, the transparency requirement also represents the central moral category. If it is made clear which company supports a media contribution financially, it is ethically justifiable to take advantage of this opportunity.

3.3. Product placement

Product placement is one of the oldest forms of advertising on television (Volpers et al. 2008). It consists of a targeted placement of a branded product in a broadcast. Paid and unpaid forms can be shown. A distinction can be made between the following types of presentations:

• When placing props, specific products are brought into the picture.
• In the case of the lettering placement, stickers or imprints can be seen where the product name can be recognized.
• The clothing placement shows the logo of the brand supplier or an advertisement.
• The sponsor of an event can be seen in the background placement.
• In the sponsor placement, the sponsor's products are integrated into the broadcasting process.

Product placement is legitimate if a prop is consistently built into the real film plot. For example, the fact that the detective inspectors' vehicle type is visible in a film is not a problem, as long as the car is not shown permanently and in an extraordinarily aesthetic form in the film. In principle, product placement activities should always be identified as such.

3.4. surreptitious advertising

Advertising is a legitimate form of product presentation, provided it is recognizable as such and takes place in a framework provided for it. Legal and moral problems arise when the advertising message appears in a context that is not intended for advertising. Surreptitious advertising as a camouflaged or subliminal expression is editorial product information in which the recipient does not initially see through the advertising message. Corresponding regulations and guidelines for avoiding this development are contained in the press code, the ARD, ZDF, DRPR and ZAW guidelines as well as in the joint guidelines of the state media authorities for the separation of advertising and programming in broadcasting. In addition, there are relevant court rulings banning camouflaged commercial advertising in cinema films and print media. In the event of such violations, the freedom of information is destroyed, as the origin of the information is not made clear to the recipient (Baerns 1996; Bartoschek & Wolff 2010). Surreptitious advertising is therefore fundamentally prohibited from a legal and ethical perspective. Reference is also made to this in the German Communication Code, which was published by the German Council for Public Relations (2012).

3.5. Guidelines of the German Advertising Council

While there are several codes of conduct from various organizations in the area of ​​public relations, the advertising agency is responsible for commercial product advertising as the media self-regulatory body in Germany (Deutscher Werberat 2012; Schicha 2005). His work is aimed at strengthening consumer confidence in advertising communication. For example, the advertising council specifies a number of rules of conduct that have been developed in addition to the legal requirements for advertising restrictions due to the protection of minors.

3.5.1. Misogynistic advertising

The striking eye-catcher through attractive body representations is a classic attention criterion in product presentation in advertising. The proportion of misogynistic advertising has gradually decreased over the last few decades. However, the problem of gender stereotypes and discrimination in advertising is still a central issue that the media self-regulatory body of the German Advertising Council has been dealing with since 1980. This may involve forms of immorality and violation of human dignity. The focus here is on, among other things, misogynist and sexist advertising in which women are degraded to the level of an object. The communication code of the German Council for Public Relations (2012) also points out that PR and communication specialists must exclude “racist, sexist, religious discrimination or other inhumane practices” in their work.

3.5.2 Prohibition of Discrimination

The German Advertising Council (2012) also states that no groups may be discriminated against. The advertising council explicitly names the categories of race, descent, religion, gender, age, disability and sexual orientation. In addition, advertising should not encourage or tolerate violent, aggressive or anti-social behavior. In doing so, fear must not be created, nor should people's suffering or misfortune be instrumentalized for advertising purposes. These points played a central role in the debate about the advertising of the fashion company Benetton, as the group has repeatedly dealt with criminals who have been sentenced to death as well as with war victims and disabled people for its products (Bohrmann 2010).

3.5.3. Advertising with celebrities

Advertising with prominent actors, models and singers has a long tradition. Artists use their popularity and role model function as identification figures to advertise products on advertising posters, in advertisements and TV spots. Advertising with celebrities who have not explicitly given their consent to the relevant campaigns is ethically and legally problematic.

3.5.4. Provocative advertising

In view of the numerous media influences, provocative advertising has emerged as a variant in which attention and emotions are generated by breaking a calculated taboo. It aims to polarize with surprising images and statements. Due to controversial discussions in public and in the media, this form can contain additional free advertising, which can be counterproductive if public opinion turns away from the products of the companies that offer such campaigns. Basically, the problem arises that generally accessible shock images can disturb the recipients and, in this respect, a corresponding representation can be problematic. In this context, the Advertising Council pointed out that advertising should neither create fear nor exploit the suffering and misfortune of others for advertising purposes.

3.5.6. Problematic products

Potential addictive substances such as alcohol, cigarettes and medication may only be advertised to a limited extent. Observance of the protection of minors is of central importance here. Children and adolescents should not be approached directly and encouraged to consume such products. In addition, no performance-enhancing promises may be made through the consumption of alcohol. The linking of alcohol and competitive sport in advertising is also to be omitted, as is the advertising link between driving vehicles and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Regarding unhealthy food products, the regulation is far less pronounced. Especially sweet and greasy items have been criticized. Since children and young people can only assess the consequences of their consumer behavior to a limited extent and are particularly in need of protection, it is important to be cautious when advertising children's products. The German Advertising Council has rightly prohibited direct calls to buy children in order to prevent their inexperience and gullibility from being exploited.

4. Basics of online communication

Companies are increasingly using the possibilities of modern online communication to distribute press releases and offer advertising. This virtual form of communication can reach a wide range of recipients. However, communication in Web 2.0 is always associated with considerable risks. The Internet represents an ideal platform for conspiracy theories, rumors, lies and false accusations. The possibility of posting anonymous entries is available and negative evaluations are made of business enterprises, which in many cases can hardly be removed even if they prove to be inappropriate and point out unfounded. This development is also highly risky for companies. Disappointed customers or representatives of new social movements as well as "normal" citizens can give their anger space on the Internet, network with like-minded people and thus achieve a high level of public attention, which can damage the company's reputation (Becker 2012). In contrast to traditional media, online communication is characterized by a higher degree of acceleration (Misoch 2006). It is technically no problem to send messages in real time to a broad audience almost free of charge, which can react quickly and openly. This enables quick feedback. It is blogged and tweeted, status messages are posted on Facebook, which can then be rated with a like click. Your own self-portrayal can be found on Xing. Films that may contain advertising messages are posted on YouTube. Wikipedia entries try to present companies positively in the context of their own self-portrayal. Web blocks and online communities, as networks of relationships, offer space for discussion.

Due to these structural framework conditions and presentation options, there are numerous articulation options for companies and participation options for users by allowing them to react and initiate follow-up discourses. Overall, a discursive dialogue structure prevails in Web 2.0, which can promote the exchange of interactions and arguments and, as a result, the formation of public opinion and will in order to build credibility and trust (Zerfaß & Pleil 2012).

Due to the open architecture of the social web, companies have the opportunity to create publicity through transparent corporate communication in order to achieve trust and understanding. This means that classic PR work can be supported via conventional channels. At the same time, however, there is also the risk that the public feedback creates risks that can arise from calls for boycotts from dissatisfied customers, e.g. via Twitter (Thimm & Einspänner 2012).

From an ethical perspective, the same demands on credibility, argumentation and authenticity are placed on online communication that companies should also convey through traditional media channels. At the same time, this technically mediated communication with feedback option offers numerous manipulation options. For example, companies and actors can forge a Wikipedia page or operate with different identities.

Since it is technically very easy to post reports on the Internet, it is all the more important to provide guidelines for appropriate handling in the context of online communication. In this respect, a suitable regulatory framework and guidelines must be drawn up that define the relevant rules. It should not be forgotten that reports on the Internet can usually also be found in the long term (Zerfaß & Pleil 2012).

5. Conclusion

In addition to profit maximization, compliance with ethical guidelines is an essential category for commercial enterprises in the context of corporate communication in order to be able to exist in the market in the long term. The company can only survive in the long term if it has a sustainable reputation based on broad public acceptance. In this respect, a professional communication policy is of central importance, which contributes to the company being accepted and trusted. Credible and transparent public relations work can make a constructive contribution to achieving this goal. Discursive structures that lead to the public's legitimate concerns and criticisms being taken seriously are an important prerequisite for this.

Overall, there is a clear division of tasks between journalism, public relations and advertising. Journalism should inform independently. Despite its clearly interest-driven orientation, the PR work of commercial companies should act as a trust-building and image-shaping authority between the company and the public through correct and verifiable statements. Purely sales-oriented advertising, on the other hand, is most susceptible to suspicion of deception. The fact that advertising is glossed over and the product advantages are occasionally exaggerated is in part certainly acceptable. But here too, basic ethical standards are observed. The prohibition of deception through surreptitious advertising is to be rejected.

It is important for companies not only to accompany public debates that are also being conducted via the new media, but also to participate in them in a constructive and credible manner. An open group of people can participate in the debate on the Internet. Consumers and customers become producers of Internet entries. In the blogs of private users or new social movements, advertising campaigns and press releases can be critically commented on. These debates can also be conducted anonymously without specifying an imprint. A so-called shit storm can be extremely damaging to your image. If a company advertises its product and dissatisfied customers generate their criticism via various online forums, this can result in considerable damage to its image, which can have a lasting negative impact on its reputation. In this respect, it is of central importance for companies to continuously monitor, comment on and, if necessary, correct such processes. The mutual exchange with critics through a transparent communication policy is of central importance here in order to win back lost trust in the context of an open dialogue and to actively participate in the follow-up communication. The recording and analysis of the public evaluation of corporate activities is a central task for corporate communication. Due to the variety and complexity of the virtual articulation options, it is almost impossible to adequately fulfill this task. The users have numerous levels of use and cooperation options in Web 2.0. You can publish articles and reviews, share and rate them with other users, network and collaborate. In this respect, there are numerous options for information, identity and relationship management. Rating platforms and social networks offer the possibility of participation. Social movements in the form of parties, citizens' initiatives and self-help groups as well as media self-regulatory bodies and every single citizen can exchange ideas via their networks in numerous channels and thus exert a considerable influence on public perception. If companies do not react appropriately and promptly to criticism, this can have devastating consequences for their acceptance and economic success. In this respect, a proactive, transparent and honest company and product policy through PR and advertising is indispensable in order to be successful in the market in the long term. When companies make mistakes, deceive or articulate false promises, this can only be corrected through an open and responsible communication policy.

The article has already appeared in the anthology “Handbuch Unternehmenskommunikation” published by Ansgar Zerfaß and Manfred Piwinger in Springer Verlag Wiesbaden 2014 (2nd edition) on pages 329-348.

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