DENVER, Feb. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- A "few rotten apples" are responsible for the ethical crisis facing corporate America, but the public believes the problem is more widespread and wants executives punished for their ethical lapses, the head of the world's largest organization for public relations practitioners said today in Denver. Reed Bolton Byrum, APR, president of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) urged the nation's CEOs to speak out on the issue of corporate ethics and said, "It will take real leaders to turn this situation around." "If CEOs and CFOs are fearful of where candor might lead their companies, consider where lack of candor has led the economy and stock exchanges," Byrum added at a meeting of PRSA's Colorado chapter. A recent credibility survey by PRSA and Equation Research shows "most Americans perceive executives as weak and lacking in ethics" and 85 percent believe punishing them for ethical lapses is the answer to the problem, Byrum said. A recent Gallup Poll shows Americans rate "the honesty and ethics of business executives just above that of telemarketers and just below those of congressmen and building contractors," he said. "Another survey says 54 percent of professional investors say recent scandals are not just the work of a few 'bad apples,' but represent the broader failure of corporate governance." "All of these negative ratings arise out of 23 indictments of corporate executives," Byrum said. "But, damningly, they also arise out of the silence of executives and institutions, voices that have remarkably failed to refute misperceptions. "I challenge all of us (PR professionals) to get CEOs of American institutions to speak out," he added. "This could, in fact, be the quickest route to re-establishing a positive perception of institutional ethics." Byrum, who is serving a one-year term as PRSA president, was one of the first PR professionals to incorporate public relations strategies on the Internet. He serves as public relations counsel to a number of high-tech companies. With nearly 20,000 members in 116 chapters nationwide, PRSA is the world's largest organization for public relations practitioners. PRSA members are on the public relations staffs of virtually every major corporation in America.