Should reporters tell interviewees all the ways the interview may be used?

Interviewing is the most important process for journalists to gather information and produce news stories. In order to convince people to conduct the interview, journalists should tell the interviewees all the ways the interview may be used which is called informed consent.

Informed consent means that (section 6.4.1, BBC Guidelines) ‘contributors should be in possession of the knowledge that is necessary for a reasoned decision to take part in our content.’ According to the BBC Guidelines, it suggested that the interviewees should know about the reasons they are being interviewed, the context of the story. Journalists should also explain to the interviewees that how the context will be used and the names of other interviewees if possible. However, journalists should not allow the interviewees to have a preview of the stories as to maintain an independence of the work. Preview of the story is only for legal or editorial reasons. By attending the interview, it can prove the informed consent with the interviewees. If journalists do not to provide the above information to the interviewees, the interviewees may be reluctant to carry out the interview. In order to gain the confidence from the interviewees, tell interviewees all the ways the interview can be used.

In some cases, informed consent is not necessary. For example, politicians have to answer questions from journalists although they may not know the use of the context. The reason why no informed consent is required for politicians is that answering questions from journalists is part of their professional lives. Also, journalists do not need informed consent in press releases etc.

Journalists have to be careful when interviewing young people, people suffered from trauma and so on as they are least likely to have the capacity to give consent. Muller (2013, The Citizen) suggested “four abilities” model to assessing the capacity of people to consent which include: 1) The ability to express a choice. 2) The ability to understand the meaning of what is proposed. 3) The ability to appreciate the implications and consequences. 4) The ability, once equipped with the necessary facts, to arrive at a reasoned decision.

If journalists are failed to obtain the informed consent, it means they may get the materials through exploiting the interviewees. This means the journalists are violating the ethics principle of fairness.


section 6.4.1, BBC Guidelines

Muller 2013, The age of consent: journalists’ ethics in natural disasters, The Citizen.


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