A breach of media ethics Editorial
Kaieteur News
July 12, 2004

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Every profession has its ethics. Of course these ethics would vary from country to country. In Guyana, given the proliferation of television and the abundance of people who now operate in the industry there is increasing competition for viewership. This then causes many to forego ethical behaviour.

In the not too distant past it was unheard of for a news media to invade an individual’s privacy. If a man was a prominent figure in the society and he ended up drunk on the streets after working hours people would talk, some writers would hint but at no time would any reporter dream of making a news item of this.

Further no editor would even dream of publishing the story if the reporter dared to write it. It was not that there were sacred cows. Rather, it was a case of respecting an individual’s privacy.

A few months ago, an international organisation hosted a forum for senior media managers at the Ocean View International Hotel. One of the issues that came up for discussion was ethics. The views were many. Some posited that a public figure was more likely to escape notice, regardless if he was in his public role or in a private capacity.

The reason was that such a figure should always behave in a manner befitting his position, regardless of whether he was on the job or just trying to be an ordinary citizen. The argument made sense given that the world is an island and that the local media are heavily influenced by the American standards.

Suffice it to say that the laws in the United States are not necessarily applicable to the local situation. The reporters in that country are not averse to staking out a home and recording the smallest movement of an individual.

In Guyana, this would be allowed if the individual is a criminal but reporters are wary about staking out public individuals. They rarely ask an individual about his private life, preferring to ask instead, about the individual as he relates to his work environment.

That is why we have found it rather embarrassing to those of us who rely on our pen for a living that a media house would record and broadcast minute details of Mr. Chandra Narine Sharma’s private life. True, Mr. Sharma is a public figure and therefore he would be more prone to the cameras than an ordinary individual. If he is attacked then he would make news ahead of an ordinary man in the same situation.

If the media house had captured the attack on camera and had followed Mr. Sharma to get every detail of the attack one would have accepted the report. Further, if Mr. Sharma had offered an interview about the episode then there would have been no question of ethics.

But it was clear that Mr. Sharma was not even aware that he was being recorded. At one point he was overheard asking whether the camera was on and was answered in the negative.

The ethics of this profession is that one does not broadcast stolen information. Media workers do not record people without their permission and broadcast the information. That person could seek legal redress in the courts.

Mark Benschop did the same thing to former Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis. He telephoned the commissioner and managed to get a not entirely publishable response from the commissioner. He did not inform Mr. Lewis that he was making a recording. Even in the United States, one needs the permission of the courts to record someone without that person’s knowledge.

Benschop proceeded to broadcast that recording. It was a shame that the television station allowed him to do that.

The cameraman who recorded Mr. Sharma was equally despicable. The recording was unsolicited and should not have been broadcast. That the state-owned television chose to broadcast this information, right down to the detail, that showed that Mr. Sharma was unaware of the recording.

Dianne Sawyers of CBS interviewed the older President Bush’s mother who happened to be slightly hearing impaired. She got some information out of the old woman although she did not inform the woman that she was being recorded. That interview was aired and Sawyers ended up being sacked. She had breached the ethics of the profession.

We await the action by the managers of the state media because the reporter or cameraman breached the ethics.

If it is that another media house provided the footage then NCN TV should have known better than to air it. We also await the action by the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting that sanctioned media houses for less.