By Tyler Austin
As journalist we may be faced with the opportunity to dig deeper into an issue, by investigative reporting or going under cover. We need to be careful when we do, though, because we might end up digging ourselves and employer into a hole.
In my Comm Law class we are currently discussing the rules of privacy. A few of the cases brought up were about reporters going undercover to dig up dirt on specific companies. This brings up the question of ethics. What is ethical when doing investigative and undercover reporting?
Back in 1992, ABC’s PrimeTime Live allowed some reporters to falsify resumes (fraud) to obtain employment at a grocery store by the name of Food Lion. The journalists were there to research accusations that the store was selling spoiled products such as meat and dairy. My Comm Law professor told us that the reporters wore cameras in their wigs to video tape employees doing terrible things like, repackaging spoiled meat, bleaching pork, and rubbing off expiration dates on dairy products. My professor also mentioned that in these videos, the reporters were taped egging on the employees to do such things.
Another case involves reporters stealing voicemails from Chiquita executives, in which they describe some of the unethical going ons in the plant. The Cincinnati Enquirer published a front page story about what was going on, but the next day published a front page apology, taking back everything they had said because Chiquita was suing for theft.
In both cases, Food Lion and Chiquita sued, not for libel, but for fraud and theft.
As Bob Steele asks in this article, “Is it ever justifiable for a journalist to violate the principle of honesty to honor the principle upon which journalism is founded, a duty to provide the public with meaningful, accurate and comprehensive information about significant issues?”
Well…. What do you think? Is it ethical to falsify your resume, steal voicemails, or encourage employees to commit crimes just to uncover and record the truth and make a story?