Retaining editorial integrity
Note: The following is a fictional scenario based on a real event
Scenario and questions
Emily Shawcross is an award winning blogger living and working on an island state in the Caribbean. She is something of a maverick by nature but has uncovered some really good stories on corrupt practices involving mining companies and politicians. Eventually this leads to an award from the United Nations as anti-corruption journalist of the year.
Islands TV recruits Emily to be the main presenter on its evening business programme, Drive For Money. Emily is excited by the new job and is looking forward to bringing her award-winning investigative journalistic approach to the programme
However, Islands TV signs a secret contract with the Minister For Industry And Development, John Jackson, which, for the equivalent of $250,000 USD, guarantees him at least 10 appearances on the programme during a 20-week run.
Emily finds out about the contract, but has only just joined Islands TV, and is earning more in a month than she did in a year as a blogger.
- Say nothing but strive to ask difficult questions to balance out any bias
- Raise her concerns with the producer of the programme and Islands TV management and hope that they will at least acknowledge that any interview is paid for
- Resign immediately and say nothing about why
- Resign immediately and leak the story to Island TV's main competitor, Sunshine Watch
What would you do? Our suggested answer is option 3, explained below.
In the real example of this fictional scenario the reporter resigned but said nothing.
However tough the interview might be, the reputational risk to Emily's name as a journalist is more important than any other consideration.
Raising the concerns with the station management was pointless, since corruption works two ways. Accepting the money is as corrupt as taking it.
Leaking the story would have broken the terms of Emily's contract of employment.
You might want to take another look at our integrity training module.
Jaldeep Katwala has been a journalist since 1985. He has worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News and Radio Netherlands as a broadcaster. He has also taught journalism and run several media development projects and training courses around the world.
This site has been given permission to use and adapt elements of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in these short editorial ethics modules. They have been updated to reflect changing international, regional and cultural variations.
Image by Alain Bachellier released under Creative Commons