Killing the Messenger: A Survey of Public Relations Practitioners and Organizational Response to Whistleblowing after Sarbanes-Oxley
Greenwood, Cary A.
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Greenwood, Cary A.
Whistleblowing has been a topic of media interest since the Vietnam War, and it continues to resonate strongly with the public. Several well-publicized whistleblowers have done much more than catch the attention of the world media. They arguably have changed the world. Whistleblowing refers to the reporting of illegal, wasteful, or unethical activities (i.e., wrongdoing) by current and former employees of an organization. Triggered by several highly publicized corporate financial failures, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires publicly traded companies to provide an anonymous channel for employees to report financial wrongdoing and provides protection for those who do. Using resource dependence perspective and relationship management theory, this study uses e-mail to distribute an online survey to top-ranking public relations executives in the Fortune 1000 corporations to identify what role public relations executives have played in developing and publicizing anonymous whistleblowing channels, their knowledge of wrongdoing in their own organizations and elsewhere, their attitudes and actions related to the wrongdoing, the consequences of their actions, and their relationships with their organizations. The study finds that only one-fifth of respondents helped develop the required anonymous communication channel, but two-thirds helped publicize it; almost one-half of respondents are aware of wrongdoing in their corporations or in other organizations, and two-thirds of those report such activities; those who report wrongdoing do so through internal channels within the corporation, with one exception; few who report wrongdoing suffer retaliation; and the vast majority enjoy positive relationships with their organizations. However, a small number of respondents experienced retaliation, and the research points to a broader exploration of this topic among public relations personnel within Fortune 1000 corporations to determine to what extent status, relationships, and benefits such as the "golden handcuffs" influence whistleblowing. Future research on whistleblowing and ethics in public relations is warranted.