Monday, October 25, 2010

Blog 15: Undercover journalism

Of all the articles we read for this week, the "Deception/Hidden Cameras Checklist" is the most effective at describing when and how things have gone wrong or right.  I think it is through this scope that the rest of the cases must be measured.  Bly's experiment exposed extreme indecency being performed on individuals that were unable to defend themselves or fight back (to any effect).  She satisfies the most important part of the requirement for this type of journalism, "must prevent profound harm to individuals."  In uncovering the ethics in the asylum, Bly got a great story but more importantly, she saved the people from their situations.  There was also no other way to prove this kind of thing was happening except through first-hand-experience.  She was willing to admit her methods for getting the story and had evidence to back up her allegations and pleas for fixing the current system.

Pam Zekman also falls into this category.  As long as she didn't come into owning a bar illegally and never misrepresented who she was, I believe that she carried out her mission effectively.  She did her job and while offering the money, it is the law enforcement's job to make sure they 1) don't take that money and 2) supervise her to do her job effectively.  Unfortunately for them, they took the money so she could continue to run a sub-par bar.  The only way to really prove this sort of thing is to run through first hand, just as Bly did.

The Food Lion scandal is another story.  I am bothered because they lied to management and were not honest about previous work experience.  This reminds me of Conover's stint at Sing-Sing, but Conover completed the training and didn't have to lie about previous work experience to get the job.  The Food Lion debate also causes me to question why the workers wanted to go undercover at that grocery store.  Had people complained about being sick from their food?  If that was the case, I feel that these complaints would have surfaced and consumers would have been able to decide for themselves about the quality of the food.  If no one else had complained then I don't think that this investigation met the 'appropriate' standards on several points, including "When the harm prevented by the information revealed through deception outweighs any harm caused by the act of deception."

As for the lobbying scandal and the phone line issues, I believe both of these could have been achieved in different ways.  I also don't believe that these news organizations used "excellence, through outstanding craftsmanship as well as the commitment of time."  When confronted with the ethical implications of their arguments, these investigative reporters became defensive and pointed out that if the perpetrators were doing things illegally, they should be allowed to uncover them illegally, which happens to fall under the 'criteria that do not justify deception.'  

Unfortunately, there is no way to say that things definitely are or definitely are not ethical or appropriate. I have trouble drawing concise lines to delineate what should and should not be allowed.  But I do believe that if a reporter is undercover and confronted with the truth (if they are found out), they should reveal their identity UNLESS their lives are in danger.  If their cover is blown, they should take the hit and walk.  If they are in danger of losing their lives, they should cease investigative reporting but not let their cover down.  Anything beyond this guideline really becomes subjective.

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