Media commandment: Thou shalt not obtain information by dishonest means

What is the eighth commandment for a journalist? “Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material,” says the Media Alliance Code of ethics.

“Identify yourself and your employer before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast.  Never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practice.”

The ethics of media transparency have been in the spotlight, after 2DayFM’s prank phone call led to the loss of a London nurse’s life and tears for the radio station presenters.

The DJs involved in the prank call are not journalists. They are covered by a commercial radio self-regulatory code-but the 2DayFM interpretation appears to be that it only applies if you are pranking Australians.

“A licensee must not broadcast the words of an identifiable person unless:

(a) that person has been informed in advance or a reasonable person would be aware that the words may be broadcast; or

(b) in the case of words which have been recorded without the knowledge of the person, that person has subsequently, but prior to the broadcast, expressed consent to the broadcast of the words.”

At this point, many Christian readers could be expected to criticize the media. Many of us perceive the media as hostile and can recall times when our leaders have been given a tough time – or worse, ignored. But seriously are we any better?

With the 2DayFM tragedy ringing in my ears, I watched a Christian documentary this week putting forward the Creationist point of view. It was an extremely well-made documentary on Charles Darwin. In the “extras”, a very prominent speaker revealed they had created a separate media company to film the documentary, interviewing prominent Charles Darwin academics without revealing they were from a creationist group, producing a creationist doco. They got to film in Darwin’s house, and were given access to his original specimens.

“We think that we will be the only creationist documentary to film there, said one of the producers. Right.

This may be an extreme example. But here’s one closer to home. Have you ever done a fake “survey” as part of an evangelistic push- maybe on campus. You know, used the guise of a survey as a way to start talking to people about Jesus? There’s an obvious caveat– sometimes Christians need to be “underground” in a few oppressive societies—but this does not apply in Australia.

Does the ends justify the means? Obviously a prank phone call is a flimsy reason to avoid a rule that says media organisations need to disclose themselves.

But is it any better to hide who we are for Gospel reasons?