By LaDonna Beeker
An invasion of privacy is a violation to a U.S. citizen’s independence to do what he or she wants and live according to his or her desires. Recently, this privacy was questioned by journalists, politicians and business leaders, but largely by readers and supporters of News Corporation’s owner Rupert Murdoch.
When I got home Wednesday and turned on the evening news, I was shocked to see that a British newspaper was under investigation for its acts of hacking into phones after bribing police officers for information. As my eyes and ears were glued to the television, I sat on my couch with my dinner in hand trying to figure out why any newspaper staff would invade the privacy of individuals. These individuals, whose information was given to journalists for a price, are probably the same people who trusted the news reporters. I’ll go out on a limb and say that trust is no longer there.
You see, when someone chooses to become a journalist, I think they should have to pass an ethical test and pledge to a code of honor not to ruin the reputation of every journalist in the world and to represent their neighbors from a watchdog point-of-view.
Tell me, how can hacking into someone’s phone voicemail messages — especially that of a murdered teenage girl — can provide justice? How is that being a watchdog? In addition, any time there is a bribe made, nothing good will come from it. Police have their closed records for a reason.
For centuries, journalists have been able to walk up to the yellow tape and request information, but there’s a fine line between public and private records. The information closed to the public is that way for a reason and should be protected.
I pride myself in being a journalist. I realize, at times, we have powerful information thrown in our laps that we have to share with the public. However, when information is gained unethically, that’s when a person is no longer a journalist and should not have the right to hold that title. That’s exactly what’s happened with the News Corp. newspaper in Britain.
Now, because of the company’s British actions, the U.S. media groups associated with the company are being considered for an investigation into anonymous tips that some of the corporations’ newspapers tried to bribe police to hack into cell phone accounts of Sept. 11, 2001, victims. Should there be an investigation into these area newspapers, even if it includes the nation’s most respected publication — The Wall Street Journal? Yes.
Anyone who does their job unethically — whether a politician, a public officer or a journalist — should not be allowed to continue in that position. The trust is no longer there and that individual or group has crossed the line into unprofessionalism.
I’ll be the first to say I want the story before any other news outlets have a taste of it. I want to be on the frontlines of battle, catching every glimpse of the breaking news event. But I will not be unprofessional about it and become unethical in the process.
What it boils down to is temptation. Those reporters at the British newspaper were enticed to bribe a police officer for hacking information because they could. Now, those journalists, along with the newspaper and the rest of the world, are viewing the product of that temptation — a patch of sour grapes.
Have those journalists learned a lesson? I hope so, but who will ever really know. Will they try to bribe a police officer again? There’s a possibility. Will this affect News Corp.’s U.S. media outlets? Yes.
For the sake of your job and the title you hold, follow the rules or you are going to be a part of the news — journalist or not.
LaDonna Beeker is editor of The Observer News Enterprise. Her column appears in the Friday edition. Reach Beeker at firstname.lastname@example.org .