Part 3 of 4
Hidden cameras are used routinely in television news. 20/20's "social experiment" use of hidden cameras is clearly a move in broadcast journalism to do something with hidden cameras that generates compelling video. However, it would seem that while ABC's legal team okayed the story because consent was given (even if it was after the fact) the tactics were viable. Once again the race to win viewers is greater than the potential harm or moral responsibility.
In my reading of academic approaches to social science research, I recall how some researchers have employed deception to gain access to subjects and to observe (the researcher who served as a lookout in public restrooms for married men engaged in public sex, secretly identified them and hunted them down for interviews about the behavior).
However, most social scientists denounce those approaches. Steinar Kvale's 1996 book InterViews : An Introduction to Qualitative Research Interviewing maps out the ethical issues in the seven stages of academic research (the realm ABC's 20/20 attempted to frame this hidden camera con job). Kvale's work and research clearly shows the academic community holds "INFORMED CONSENT" as paramount in any kind of social research, interview or experiment.
I guess the question is do the ends ever justify the means? I would suggest maybe we should reflect on how our peers and the public might see our actions once full disclosure is made. Will transparency help justify your actions?
I know new laws and proposed legislation in California are trying to tighten invasion of privacy issues to prevent entertainment shows from this kind of unethical behavior. But broadcast journalism gets First Amendment protection (continued in next blog entry).