To uncover massive corruption in India’s Ministry of Defense, an Indian newspaper launched a major sting operation called Operation West End. Two journalists posing as arms dealers from London got into negotiations with the higher-ups in the establishment and filmed the whole conversation. The undercover video showed the secretary of the ruling party and several other higher-ups accepting bribes while promising the journalists to help them in securing government contracts in India. The video was played to the whole nation causing a flutter in the political circles. The casualties were the Minister of Defense, secretary of the ruling party and several other high-profile bureaucrats.
In this scenario, the journalists used covert methods to seek truth and expose the culprits, but it also triggered a debate on whether this can qualify as unethical journalism. It is very important to take a balanced view at the subject. The motive behind this act was to uncover those who were causing losses worth millions of dollars for their own personal gains apart from compromising on the security of the nation. If the journalists had not embarked on this mission, there was every possibility that those corrupt ministers would have never been brought to justice. The other side of the coin is that by using hoax names, posing as someone else, or taping someone without his/her permission is an act of infringement of an individual’s privacy, and hence unacceptable. The debate on this issue can go on, but the real issue at hand is that journalists come across these situations frequently, and without the presence of clear-cut guidelines, it more or less becomes an individualistic choice.
As far as the ethics are concerned, there isn’t any standard reference book which journalists can refer to. There are different types of journalism and it is an evolving field and there is scope to incorporate new principles. Various associations come up with basic codes and canons frequently and most of them lay emphasis on the virtues of conducting yourself honestly, fairly and without any slant. Some of the universal journalism ethics and standards are:
☛ Journalists should conduct themselves sincerely and honestly, and they should strive to present information in a lucid manner to public. Journalists have to ensure that they verify all relevant facts before airing/publishing the story.
☛ They should be free from all prejudices concerning race, religion, sex and ethnicity, and every attempt should be made to ensure that no section of society is hurt by their reporting.
☛ They should not use any covert means to obtain information and should make every attempt to ensure that they are not intruding into an individual’s privacy.
☛ Special care should be taken while interviewing children, mentally challenged individuals and people who are going through a turmoil. If the person in question does not want to give an interview, journalists should respect his wish and not indulge in any kind of pestering and nagging.
☛ Journalists should not be influenced by any personal gains, consideration, advantage offered and should ensure that they do not publish/broadcast something for these gains.
Journalists around the world have been often accused of giving more importance to matters pertaining to glamor and leisure rather than focusing on issues that are of grave importance. An example of this can be the hysterical media coverage on the wedding of Prince William. The marriage was beamed live across the world, putting more concerning issues on the back-burner. Journalists on the other hand, have always maintained that catering to what people want to watch is important and can’t be overlooked.
As mentioned earlier, ethics and journalism is an ongoing theory and it is characterized by constant additions and omissions. The onus lies on journalists to ensure that they keep-up the good work and refrain from getting into something that can make people to lose faith in this institution and raise questions on the very foundation on which it was laid.