[FOUNTAIN]News not fit to printOn Nov. 17, 1992, NBC aired shocking footage on its news program, Dateline. Reporting on the case of a teenage boy who died in a fire when the GM pickup truck in which he was riding exploded in a crash. The show conducted its own experiment, focusing on the point that the truck’s sidesaddle gas tank could be the cause for the explosion in a collision.
When consumers complained, GM launched an investigation. Two months later, GM proved that NBC had staged the experiment and lied about the result. In order to make the explosion look more dramatic, the news show had attached an ignition device beneath the fuel tank that they exploded by remote control right before the crash. In the end, NBC admitted that it fabricated the story and apologized. The network paid GM $2 million in compensation and its president had to resign. Public confidence in NBC News dropped it from second place to fourth.
South African photojournalist Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 1994 with a photograph of a starving Sudanese child. The photo captured the moment in which the small girl was crawling on the ground, with a vulture closing in on her. Mr. Carter was criticized for taking the photo instead of helping the girl. Two months after winning the Pulitzer, the 33-year-old photojournalist committed suicide.
On May 11, 2003, the New York Times admitted in a cover story to fabrications and plagiarism by one of its reporters, calling the scandal “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.” Jayson Blair, a young reporter for the paper, had written 39 fraudulent stories with fake quotes, making up and plagiarizing stories for seven months.
The aforementioned journalism scandals are often cited when discussing journalistic ethics. NBC’s fabricated experiment was a result of its pursuing the grand cause of the public good over the cause of truth in reporting. The New York Times courted trouble with its careless “gate keeping.” The suicide of Mr. Carter framed a dilemma between professionalism and ethics in journalism.
The MBC network’s program, PD Notebook, is under fire over ethics issues. The program had violated journalistic ethics by threatening sources with arrest. Even if it turns out that Dr. Hwang Woo-suk’s papers were faulty, as PD Notebook claimed, its illegal methods would still be a problem. The inappropriate investigation and coverage affect the credibility and accuracy of a report. Journalists pursue exclusive scoops, national interest, social justice and truth. However, they cannot ignore proper procedures and steps.
by Ko Dae-hoon
The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.