Ethics and Law in Corporate Communication


C) Ethics and Law in Corporate Communication

In any organization, communication plays a crucial role. It helps an organization to build the primary resources (Labour, Capital, and Raw Materials) and secondary resources (such as legitimacy and reputation). We have ample examples wherein the reputation of an organization has been demolished on the basis of their unethical practices, false commitments or mishandling of their stakeholders. Therefore, any successful organization should follow the standard code of ethics and government guidelines and laws.

The concept of ethics and law in corporate communication is divided into 4 parts:-

Mass Media Laws Invasion of Privacy Copyright act RTI and media responsiveness Professional code of ethics

As the role of a corporate communicator is to make the consumer aware, instruct and persuade towards the organization vision, mission and values to create a good image and reputation, therefore, they need to be extremely truthful and accurate before their internal and external stakeholders.

Let’s study in details to understand the concept of ethics and law in context of corporate communication with suitable examples:-

Mass Media Laws:-

The brief history of mass media laws: – In India, the concept of mass media laws were enacted during the British Raj.  In 1799, Lord Wellesley promulgated the Press Regulations and imposed the censorship on newspaper for publishing any information against the government. The passed act of 1835 was repressive in nature and imposed restrictions on the printing industry. In 1857, Government passed the “Gagging Act” which had the rule to have compulsory licensing for the owning or running of printing presses and gave multiple rights to government to suppress the freedom of the press. In 1867, the ‘Press and Registration of Books Act” 1867 came. The Vernacular Press Act of 1878 was also repressive in nature. After that, there were various acts introduced by British governor which curbed the freedom of the press.
But after independence, The Indian constitution has signified the “Freedom of Press” and empowered press to disseminate knowledge to the masses and the Constituent Assembly and in Article 19 (1)  (a) enumerated certain rights regarding individual freedom of speech and expression.

Article 19 of the Indian Constitution Lays down: –

“All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peacefully, a without arms, to form associations or unions, to move freely throughout the territory of India, to reside in any part of the territory of India, to acquire hold and dispose of property and to practice any profession or to carry any occupation, trade or business.” It is defined that such freedom is not absolute but is qualified by certain clearly defined limitations under Article 19 (2) in the interests of the public, sovereignty and integrity of nation, state security, relations with neighboring and foreign countries, public decency and mortality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to offence.

DEFAMATION: – The term “defamation” is an all-encompassing term that covers any statement that hurts someone’s reputation. If the statement is made in writing and published, the defamation is called “libel.” If the hurtful statement is spoken, the statement is “slander.” Defamation is not a crime, it is a civil wrong. The law of defamation varies from state to state.  Few cases of defamation incorporates which had made the headlines as follows:-

  1. 1997: B V P Rao vs Rata Tata and others V P Rao contended that Tata Tea had twisted and suppressed the facts projecting him in a very poor light by alleging that there was no response from him as home secretary in December 1995 for providing security after the Tata Tea received a letter from the Ulfa demanding hundred walkie-talkie sets. Rao, who was then the state power commissioner, claimed damage of Rs 1 crore against the Tata Tea, its managing director R Krishna Kumar and chairman of Tata group of companies Ratan Tata.
  2. 2006: R S Lodha vs B K Birla Auditor R S Lodha, who had claimed that Priyamvada Birla had bequeathed her assets worth thousands of crores to him, sued industrialist B K Birla for damages of Rs 100 crore. He said Birla’s statements in the media had tarnished his image.
  3. 2008: Anil Ambani vs Mukesh Ambani Anil Ambani sued brother Mukesh for damages of Rs 10,000 crore for certain libelous statements by the latter in an interview to New York Times. The American publication and some Indian papers which reproduced this were also made respondents. A case was withdrawn after the truce between brothers a few years later.
  4. 2010: Chris Cairns vs Lalit Modi New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns sued the then IPL chairperson Lalit Modi, in the UK’s first Twitter libel case over a defamatory tweet sent in January 2010, in which Modi referred to Cairns’ alleged involvement in match-fixing as the reason for barring him from the IPL auction. “The allegation made by Lalit Modi that I have been involved in match-fixing is scandalous and wholly untrue. For him to circulate such a falsehood around the world is outrageous,” Cairns said in a statement. In 2012, a UK court awarded damages of 90,000 pounds and costs of 1.5 million pounds. Modi had said he would appeal.
  5. 2014: Veritas vs India bulls Canadian investment firm Veritas Investment filed a suit of a settlement of a claim in Ontario against India bulls claiming $11 million (Rs 70 crore) in damages for the alleged defamatory announcements and press releases put out by India bulls, which led to the closure of its India Research services. India bulls won an interim order against the move in Delhi High court. A few months later, it also filed a suit claiming Rs 200 crore damages from Veritas and its analyst Neeraj Monga for submissions made in the Ontario claim.

Invasion of Privacy: –

In India, we all have the right to privacy. But, sometimes, this right is being curbed especially in case of celebrities or any public figure. Invasion of privacy is the unjustifiable intrusion into the personal life of another without consent. However, invasion of privacy is not a tort on its own; rather it generally consists of four distinct causes of action. The four most common types of invasion of privacy torts are as follows:

  • Appropriation of Name or Likeness
  • Intrusion Upon Seclusion
  • False Light
  • Public Disclosure of Private Facts

Appropriation: – Appropriation of a person’s name or likeness for commercial or trade purpose without any permission is an invasion of privacy. Use of an individual’s photograph, a sketch of the person’s nickname or any other names is all considered use of a name or likeness.

E.g. In 2005, when famous musician Tom Waits declined an offer made by an advertising agency to do an ad campaign for a new automobile, then the advertisers hired someone who sounds like him to do the soundtrack which made Waits to sue the automaker for appropriating his likeness.

Intrusion upon seclusion: – Intruding someone’s private affairs, physically or otherwise, is subject to liability if the other person finds it offensive and unacceptable. When someone illegally intercepting private phone calls and snooping someone’s private records without the permission, take someone’s photographs without permission, etc. are the examples of intrusion to right to privacy.

E.g. – A famous Ratan Tata – Radia Tape case is an example of intrusion upon solitude which showed the interesting woman attempting to influence policy by controlling politicians and journalists, destroyed reputations and careers, but Ratan Tata emerged with mere scratches.

Public Disclosure of Private Facts: – As the term suggests, it is about encroaching someone’s personal territory. Wherein, the media tries to cover all the irrelevant personal information about the public figure which is not of much concern.

False Light Claim: – False light laws protect your right to not have potentially misleading or damaging information about yourself publicly disclosed. This includes the disclosure of information that may be true but is nonetheless misleading or damaging. For example, it may be an invasion of privacy if a caption published with a photograph in a news article about a protest describes a person as a participant, when in fact, the person was only observing the protest. Generally, the elements of false light are as follows:

  • The defendant publicly disclosed information about the plaintiff;
  • The information placed the plaintiff in a false light; and
  • The false light would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.


Copyright protects the original work of artists in the area of literature, dramatics, music, artistic works, anonymous and pseudonymous works, posthumous works, cinematograph films, sound records, government work, public undertaking, international agencies a photograph.

The duration of the copyright protection varies. Infringement of copyright occurs whenever somebody exercises copyright owner’s right without permission. The Copyright ACT, 1957 gives various rights to the owners.

Copyright guidelines:-

  • It is essential for a corporate communicator to copyright all the literature, brochures or relevant documents deal with company information to protect legally.
  • No download/upload other person’s work without having proper information about its protected rights.
  • Always seek permission for materials used for sale.
  • All celebrity letters, photographers to be protected.
  • Government documents are not copyrighted but avoid implying government endorsements.

E.G. Apple vs Microsoft

The battle between these techs giants started with a simple question: who invented the graphical user interface (GUI)? The company that controls the interface of the next major operating system will have the ability to set the standards for application software, so it’s unsurprising that Apple tried to stop Windows from becoming a major operating system.

It seemed that although Microsoft helped develop Macintosh, Jean-Louis Gassée, who had taken over from Steve Jobs at the time, refused to allow Microsoft to use their software. Bill Gates pressed on nonetheless, deciding to add in features of its own too early prototypes of the Macintosh.

When Gassée noted the software, he was enraged. However, he didn’t want a lawsuit and ended up agreeing to license Mac’s visual displays. But Windows 2.0 turned out to be almost identical, and Gassée believed it to be a breach of contract, only having allowed their software to be used for 1.0 and not future versions.

So, without warning, Apple filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in 1988. Apple’s case included 189 contested visual displays that violated its copyright. This led to a six-year-long battle.

In 1989, the court ruled that 179 of the 189 disputed displays were covered by the existing license. Furthermore, the other ten were not violations of Apple’s copyright due to the merger doctrine, where the idea-expression divide limits the scope of copyright protection by differentiating an idea from the manifestation of that idea. The lawsuit was decided in Microsoft’s favor on August 24, 1993.

More examples of copyright cases can be read on the link


Digital piracy is a form of online piracy and includes the unauthorized online distribution of electronic copies of copyrighted material such as software, movies, and music. Recently, we have seen that many filmmakers have shown their concern towards the release of the movie on the digital platform prior to release date and it gets leak on the digital platform which impacts their business and in larger context employment. Though it has many advantages to businesses and consumers alike, there are many challenges have also been emerged such as:-

  • Availability of lots of unauthorized sites: – such websites allow web users to download the media content for free and it is pirated and make it widely available for users.
  • High-Speed Internet: – Today, the high-speed technology and availability of many apps through which we can share the large MB data in few seconds capitalize the high traffic by selling the advertising space of their webpage to advertisers to reach the target audience. Such promotional tactics help them to generate revenue through digital advertising. Such advertisers may be harmful to all people who get associated with it. It might get indulge in illegal activity.
  • Unsafe digital environment: – the sites on which digital advertising is shown might be interpreted by consumers that it is a well-known brand but it might not be the case in reality.

Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of a communication expert of a company to avoid ads going to suspected IP infringing websites. Also, it is essential to eliminate fraud traffic, combat malware, fight internet piracy, and promote brand safety through transparency.

Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has provided the list of some ethical rules to publish the information in the digital media:-

  • Ethical practice does not change the medium.
  • All online content should be accurate and consider carefully.
  • It is important to quote the used sources when the information gets published online.
  • Ensure credibility
  • When errors or corrected, it needs to be mentioned.
  • Online printed materials need to be used with proper permissions.
  • Information gathered through online should be confirmed, checked, varied and authenticate with the list of sources.

Right to Information: –

Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens and replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally. The Law came into force on 13 October 2005. However, under this act, the private bodies are not covered directly but information that can be accessed under any other law in force by a public authority can get access.

Code of Ethics and its implementation: –

Companies constitute a committee consisting of internal and external directors for institutionalizing ethical behaviors. The function of such committee includes:-

  1. Inform all members the code of ethics.
  2. Regular meeting to discuss the ethical issues.
  3. Enforcing the code
  4. Dealing with concern areas
  5. Reviewing and updating the code
  6. Reporting the activities of the committee to the board of Directors.

Professional Code of Ethics: –

International Code of Ethics adopted in All India Public Relations Conference in 1968 states that United Nations Organizations have agreed to abide by its charters reaffirms” its faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person” and that having regard to the very nature of their profession, Public Relations practitioners in these countries should undertake to ascertain and observe the principles set out. This code of ethics highlight the important aspects of Public Relations practitioners such as Honesty, Advocacy, Expertise, Independence, Loyalty, and Fairness.


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