Protecting public health and safety

"Trust in the Press is essential in an ever changing society. Not only must the Press be trusted but it must be believed and must behave in an ethical manner. But what constitutes "an ethical manner"? Laws might be set to achieve certain outcomes and may not necessarily be ethical. What is legal and demanded by law may not be considered ethical from a journalistic point of view. With respect to your personal point of view of the above, discuss what you believe journalists have to do to maintain the trust and respect of the public.

The historian Thomas Babington Macaulay introduced the notion of the media as the Fourth Estate; the role of a watchdog that checks on abuses of power by government and professionals. 1 Lord Hutchinson, QC defence council for the ABC Case regarding the Official Secrets Act 1989, said it is the task of the press to examine, probe, question and find out if there are mistakes to embarrass the government. 2 With such a role of responsibility, it is vital that the public trust what the press tell them.

Codes and laws are in place to make sure journalists act as a collective conscience. 3 In practice this is difficult as individual consciences come into play, along with the obstacles of time, money and competition that face journalists in their profession. One common rule among journalists is to never reveal your sources. If you do, your career will be tainted with mistrust. This journalistic ethical code secures a relationship with the public and provides protection. But there are laws that contravene this.

Section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 says courts have the right to demand that journalists reveal their source if disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice or national security or for the prevention of disorder or crime. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 says police investigating a "serious offence" can obtain an order requiring the journalist to submit evidence considered useful to the court. It is difficult to defy the law, especially when the consequence could be imprisonment or a fine.

However, I would still try to keep my sources confidential; otherwise they could face a fine or imprisonment. I would find that difficult to live with because I am just as responsible for protecting my sources and for imparting the information. In these circumstances I would argue for freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act 1998. Trainee journalist Bill Goodwin appealed successfully with this argument after he was fined for refusing to hand over documents concerning engineering company Terra Ltd.

In another case the Guardian exposed their source Sarah Tisdall in 1984 under pressure from the courts. She leaked information about the delivery of cruise missiles to RAF Greenham Common and was jailed as a consequence. 4 Where a source has taken the initiative and given a story to the press, especially in matters relating to national security, they must have recognised the risk and it is not unreasonable for them to take the consequences. There are legal reporting restrictions that a journalist can overturn.

Section 39 and 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 can be lifted if a juvenile has committed a serious crime and naming them would act as a deterrent to others. Journalists often cite public interest in their reasons for disagreeing with the law and this is an ethical way to maintain the trust and respect of the public. Yet the problem lies in defining public interest. The Press Complaints Commission states that public interest includes: 1. Detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour 2. Protecting public health and safety.

Preventing the public being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organisation5 Reporter Ryan Perry went undercover in 2003 as a footman at Buckingham Palace in order to observe their security methods. His report in the Daily Mirror highlighted the need for tightened security and this was achieved. His behaviour, although deceitful, was for the public's safety and I agree with German journalist Gi?? nter Wallraff who said, "you have to disguise yourself in order to unmask your society". 6 The BBC reiterates this in their guidelines for public interest: "…

when dealing with serious illegal or anti-social behaviour it may occasionally be acceptable for us not to reveal the full purpose of the programme to a contributor. "7 This is when the ethical behaviour of a journalist starts to depart from the ethical code of the public and indeed the law. I would find it difficult to lie in order to get a story but if it was for the public's benefit, I could do it. I do not think behaving this way, if it revealed vital information, could lose the respect or trust of the public. If the person I was exposing was a family member or boyfriend, I could not report on the story.

I would not cover up their crime but similarly, I would not offer them up for public scrutiny. Ethical manner as a journalist is different to ethical manner as a daughter or girlfriend and in this case the personal is stronger than the professional. I do not think Perry's report on Buckingham Palace should have included photographs of private bedrooms and details on the storage of breakfast cereals. This does not come under the Press Complaints Commission code of public interest and I do not think it can be justified as ethical behaviour.

Undercover work cannot be held up as ethical when the outcome is less important than the act and Perry's inclusion of these private details undermine the ethical reasons for reporting undercover. When it becomes a matter of what the public are interested in, rather than what they need to know, ethical manners begin to vary between journalists and other factors come into the equation. The media is to a certain extent controlled by the people who own the newspapers, radio stations and television companies. They pay the journalist's salary and they ultimately make the decisions.

A senior executive of News International said: "If an editor went to Murdoch and said that he had carefully examined the PCC code of conduct on chequebook journalism and had come to the conclusion that to pay to get a story would be a breach of the code and, therefore, he hadn't done it, he would be fired. "8 This shows that a journalist's so-called ethical behaviour is not always their own. However the journalist can decide who they work for. If I was asked to pay for stories that revealed matters that I did not consider of public interest, then I would refuse and work for a different organisation.

This is, of course easier said than done and when one organisation is willing to pay for a story, others follow suit to keep up with competition. The public are aware of this and join in the 'game'. Neighbours of Shannon Matthews have begun to charge for their stories, and they know the media will pay. It is difficult not to succumb to this method of journalism when competition is so fierce but then motivation for talking to the press becomes about money rather than truth. The competition and pressure to get a good story causes some journalists to fabricate, especially in the television industry.

Regulators Ofcom demonstrated the penalty of misleading the public when they fined ITV i?? 5. 675 million for phone vote scandals. Journalist Max Hastings said deceit is "woven into the very nature of television. " He described how some camera crews in war zones have encouraged soldiers to open fire so they can film dramatic footage that was missed when it actually happened. 9 I understand the desire to produce a captivating documentary but asking soldiers to potentially put themselves and others in danger for dramatic effect, is not ethical behaviour.

In television there is a fine line between deceiving the public and assuming they know about the editing tricks of the trade. Filming a sequence over a three-day period but presenting it as one day is not harmful deception but the reality of television production. The BBC's broadcast in 2007 of the Queen storming out of a portrait session was deceiving because editing gave a false representation of the actual events. Ofcom hold a similar view in regard to fairness. They say broadcasters should take reasonable care that "material facts have not been presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that is unfair to an individual or organisation.