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In Defence of Entrapment in Journalism (and Beyond)

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The use of ‘proactive’ methods of newsgathering in journalism is very frequently condemned, from within and without the media. I argue that such condemnation is too hasty. In the first half of the paper, I develop a test which distinguishes between legitimate and illegitimate uses of proactive methods by law enforcement agencies. This test combines the virtues of the standard objective and subjective tests usually used, while avoiding the defects of both. I argue that when proactive methods pass this test, they are always legitimate; but that in addition they are sometimes mandatory. In the second half, I apply this test to journalism. I show that actual uses of proactive methods by journalists pass the test, and are therefore (at least) permissible. There are other ethical considerations which are relevant to the use of such techniques by journalists, which ought to be taken into account before it is decided to employ such methods, but I show that they are rarely of sufficient weight to render proactive newsgathering impermissible.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: 01 January 2002

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