Journalistic ethics – scenario

All the scenarios on Media Helping Media are based on real events.

<a href="" target="_new">Image by Mark.murphy at English Wikipedia</a> released via <a href="" target="_blank">Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0</a>
Image by Mark.murphy at English Wikipedia released via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

You are a reporter on a small town newspaper and are covering a story about plans for a massive new leisure centre and hotel complex to be built locally.

You sense that something is wrong when a local politician becomes an outspoken champion for the proposal, saying it will be good for business and for the fortunes of the town.

While investigating the story, you find that the politician has close business connections with the owner of the hotel who submitted the planning application and with the developer who has drawn up the plans.

Two years ago, when the hotel was extended, you and a few of your friends accepted an invitation for a weekend break including free meals and unlimited fine wine. At the time, you felt uneasy about accepting, but you decided to go ahead anyway and make the most of the free offer.

As soon as you start to ask questions about this proposed new development, both the hotel owner and the politician remind you that you were quite happy to enjoy their hospitality – to the tune of many hundreds of pounds – and that surely you owe them a favour. They ask you what it would look like if they put it about that you were a journalist who liked to accept free gifts from local businessmen. What do you do? Do you:

  1. talk to your editor, admit that you accepted hospitality from someone who could now be part of an investigation, and leave it to your editor to decide how the story is covered.
  2. drop the story in order to protect your newspaper and hope that by keeping quiet and not asking awkward questions your earlier involvement will not be revealed.

Suggested action

You would be advised to talk to your editor, admit that you had accepted hospitality from someone who could now be part of an investigation, and let the editor decide how the story is covered – learn that accepting favours could compromise your work as a journalist

Why this is the right answer

Remember the saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch. This means that when you are given something free of charge, people often expect a favour in return.

For a journalist, this is particularly difficult. However, we are all learning and you will certainly not make the same mistake again.

You must talk to your editor, tell him or her all the facts, be totally honest, and move on.

Your newspaper owes it to its readers to tell the truth, and the story must be investigated, even if it proves embarrassing to you.

Related training modules

Is your journalism ethical?

Integrity and journalism