What Do We Deserve to Know?

A common ethical issue journalists are faced with is a person’s right to privacy vs. the public’s right to know.  What is the information that the public deserves to know even if it is a private matter of a person’s life?  This issue has become more and more prevalent with technology expanding daily.

One case that has come up recently is whether to release police body camera footage of shootings.  One such case occurred in Haverhill, New Hampshire last year, when a family of a man shot by police asked to block the release of the footage publicly.  The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing in the case, but several media companies asked for the footage to be released publicly (“Family blocks release of police body camera videos of Canterbury man’s shooting,” 2015).

As discussed by the authors in The Bakersfield Californian case, newsworthiness is on the side of the journalists, for this footage is a newsworthy event.  However, agape shows us why the family wants the footage blocked (Christians, Fackler, Richardson, Kreshel, Woods, 2012).  It is a horrifying event that could cause the family more pain and suffering that isn’t needed.

This case and others like it show why the public’s right to know vs a person’s right to privacy is so tricky.  One has to determine what values are at play on both sides of the matter (Christians, et al, 2012).  Why does the public need to know about the event? Is it really newsworthy, or more for entertainment value?  Is the person trying to block the release of information just to not be embarrassed or are there other factors involved?

Using Thomas Emerson’s summary of the right to privacy, one must be sure to stay outside of the circle that every person has.  A journalist must make the tough decisions of when to make information from inside that circle known, but must have a strong ethical case behind it when they do (Christians et al, 2012).

Reference List

Christians, C. G., Fackler, M., Richardson, K. B., Kreshel, P. J., & Woods, R. H., Jr. (2012). Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Family blocks release of police body camera videos of Canterbury man’s shooting. (2015, August 5). Retrieved February 4, 2016, from WMUR9 website, http://www.wmur.com/news/family-blocks-release-of-police-body-camera-videos-of-canterbury-mans-shooting/34556798


Posted on 4 February 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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