Deceptive Journalism –Is It Acceptable?

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Deceptive Journalism –is it acceptable?


In this essay I will be disusing whether or not deception is an unavoidable part in journalism. I will carry out this discussion by referring to case studies and the MEAA and AJA guidelines as well as other vital sources need to draw a solid conclusion. To begin our discussion we must first understand what the word deception means. Over time the meaning of the word has gone through various changes in that we now have a more specific definition. According to Buller & Burgoon, 1996, Deception is “knowingly transmitting information to foster a false belief to the receiver.”

According to Elliot & Culver, 1988, “Journalists are not above using some forms of deception to get stories.” Deception occurs in two key areas of journalism:

1. In news gathering

2. In news writing

Deception in news gathering

News gathering refers to establishing rapport with subjects. One way of doing this is by interviewing them. What can make news gathering deceptive is the identity of journalist remaining unknown to subject. Using any recording devices without the knowledge of the subject would be considered a form of deception, as would any off the record conversation between the subject and journalist. An example of deceptive news gathering would be one of a journalist who wants to catch online paedophiles. To do this he poses online as an under-age girl and chats to the sex predator until he finally lures him in and when the paedophile is caught only then the journalist reveals his true identity. This was exactly what one journalist did on a television programme named: Dateline- to catch a predator. The journalist displayed deceptive methods of journalism by withholding his true identity, using recording devices without the knowledge of the subject and having off the record online conversations.

Deception in news writing

Journalists have 2 duties to uphold to. They have the duty to tell readers information the news organization has explicitly and implicitly promised to tell and they have the duty to tell information, that withheld, would lead readers to false conclusions. (Elliot & Culver, 1988) Falsifying information like quotes or statistics and withholding information would equate to deceptive journalism. A famous case study in relation to this would be the Stephen Glass case. Glass worked as a reporter for The New Republic from 1995 to 1998. His articles received strong following from readers and TNR staffs for its vivid depictions and witty writing. A Forbes Digital investigation following up on an article written by Glass revealed that he fabricated the story. Glass was immediately fired.TNR determined that at least 27 of 41 stories written by Glass contained fabricated material. (Bissinger, 1998) The fabrication of his news stories meant that he falsified non-existent material, deceiving the public and tainting his reputation as a true journalist.

According to the MEAA clause 1 a journalist should “Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply.” (MEAA, 2010)

Sometimes however there maybe reasons why a journalist maybe somewhat forced to write in question of their journalistic integrity. The reason for this is Media Ownership. Media ownership may cause journalist reports to be biased to the interest of their owners. Biased reports employ deception by withholding information that may portray owners of the medium in a negative image. We can related this to the Hypodermic Needle Theory which in this scenario would mean audience consume biased information and believe it to be credible as it is coming from a news source of a strong political hierarchy.

As a case study we can take a look at our Malaysian Media....
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