For the sake of obtaining a news story, journalists may sometimes conduct undercover stings to obtain a lot more information than they would normally be able to obtain if they were not in disguise – for example with the case of Sam Allardyce, English football manager, two journalists went in disguise and filmed him as part of an undercover newspaper investigation while he was still in charge of Sunderland. He told the journalists of ways to bypass Football Association rules on player transfers.
For the most part, it is unethical to conduct undercover stings, as these are often done without the consent of the person being investigated. With the case of Sam Allardyce, for example, although the journalists that were in disguise caught him out, it was without his consent, as he gave them a lot of information trusting them.
However, it can also be ethical for journalists to conduct undercover stings while disguised as someone else, as they can find a lot more information incognito than they would if they were not disguised. For the case of Sam Allardyce, the journalists found out from him that third party ownership (a company owning some or all the financial rights to a player) is still possible in many parts of the world. As well as this, he told them that Enner Valencia was under a third-party ownership agreement (team, 2016). When asked whether third party agreement was a problem, he responded: “It’s not a problem, we got Valencia in. He was third party owned when we bought him from Mexico.”
Whether it is ethical or not for journalists to go undercover generally depends on a few factors: if the information that the journalist will collect by going undercover will make for a great story, and if the story involves uncovering some sort of criminal activity.
In the case of Sam Allardyce, it was ethically right for the journalists to conduct undercover stings. This is because, a sport such as football that has over 4 billion fans, in the end, the incident made a massive headline (Home, no date).
The fact that criminal activity was taking place as well further justifies the fact that it was ethical for the journalists to go undercover, as Allardyce bought Valencia under third party agreement, and he was attempting to teach others how to bypass the rules – both illegal actions.
It is also ethically sound as at times Journalists are unable to get certain information going undercover that they would be unable to obtain using other methods. For the case of the third-party ownership, it is likely that very few people knew of the fact that Allardyce got Valencia under third-party ownership agreement, and it may have remained that way if the journalists had not conducted investigations incognito – had they not gone undercover, it is very likely that the world would have learned about Allardyce’s dubious actions many years later, or in fact never.
team, I. (2016) Exclusive investigation: England manager Sam Allardyce for sale. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/26/exclusive-investigation-england-manager-sam-allardyce-for-sale/ (Accessed: 4 January 2017).
Home (no date) French open. Available at: http://www.totalsportek.com/most-popular-sports/ (Accessed: 4 January 2017).