Paying the Sydney Siege survivors for an interview is ethically wrong.

690100-e09cc2aa-85a9-11e4-8f4d-ec1f6fcd6174I’ve got a real problem with the Sydney Siege survivors being paid for an interview with 60 Minutes.

It will be the first in depth interview with the survivors of the Lindt Café siege, who were held hostage by Islamic terrorist Man Haron Monis.

Maybe it’s just what I’ve learnt from my Journalism Ethics class at university; chequebook journalism is wrong – and with good reason.

David Penberthy wrote an interesting article about this in the Advertiser. He supports the survivors being paid, with poor reasons.

Firstly, he says ‘It’s also a very different set of circumstances from a cashed-up celebrity who has done something stupid or immoral, and then demands cash to tell their side of the story, or a convicted drug dealer trying to circumvent the proceeds of crime laws with a “tell-all” book cashing on their criminality.’ Yes, true, these particular circumstances should not warrant a paid interview as we shouldn’t be commercialising another’s stupid choices. But this does not justify one person being paid over another, there should be no grey area or slippery slope in regards to who ‘deserves’ to be paid for an interview.  Where do you draw the line of who gets paid and who doesn’t, and who gets to decide this? Chequebook journalism is a serious risk to the news industry and I think there should be a strict law for no paid interviews – at all – in Australia.

Penberthy says that the families of the two people who died in the siege might be ‘judgmental 141216_sydney-siege-victims-mainabout these media deals’ – as they damn right deserve to be. How distasteful and insulting it would be for them – to have lost their loved one in this tragedy – and know that others are profiteering by simply making it out alive.

Penberthy does make an excellent point that this debate has ‘highlighted how shockingly low the actual payouts are from government for people who experience these types of crimes’ and that many of these survivors will probably be using the money ‘to cover their bills or service a mortgage if they find themselves so strung out that they can’t return to work.’ And this I definitely agree with, there is a massive gaping hole in our system if these survivors are not being appropriately supported. But, that is the responsibility of the government. I think it’s very dangerous and could create a contagion effect if we see this as the role of a news industry.

As my university lecturer stressed; chequebook journalism undermines the freedom of the news industry and decreases the accuracy of information being provided by the interviewee. If someone is being paid a substantial amount for an interview, it’s incredibly likely they will exaggerate and exacerbate the story and information to give the news outlet what they want to hear and because they story is presented as extremely valuable.

News outlets should be prioritising the accuracy of information above the profitability of the company. We are starting to see more and more cases where an interview is sold to the highest bidder and I think that’s playing a dangerous game. I don’t think we should accept that culture in Australia as it plays a dangerous future for journalism in Australia. We went over and over these points in Journalism Ethics because chequebook journalism is simply unethical.

Tim Dean from the ABC makes a very good argument; ‘Yet we can offer our sympathy and give our support without fuelling an industry that earns a fortune by exploiting others’ misfortune.’

This story about the Sydney Seige is so important for Australians to hear, these in depth stories vital. I would hate if the story was distorted and sensationalised because they are being paid.


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