When is undercover reporting justified?

Journalism’s history of undercover reporting is fraught with contradiction.

On one hand, some of the most celebrated reporting of the past century or so resulted from courageous reporters who went undercover to expose injustices and wrongdoing.

On the other hand, is the fact that journalism’s core value is truth. How can lying to get a story be reconciled with that value?

Like so many ethical issues in journalism, this is not a black and white issue. Journalist’s first obligation is to seek truth and report it. But there are some circumstances when truth can only be discovered by means of deception. In such cases, the overriding value is the public interest.

Did the ends justify the means of the Star’s Sara Mojtehedzadeh going undercover for a month at Fiera Foods, one of Toronto’s largest industrial bakeries, to expose working conditions for precarious workers who rely on temp agencies to find work? In my view, this was most certainly justified.

The Star’s journalistic standards guide makes clear that undercover reporting is a tool of last resort, to be used following extensive consideration at the newsroom’s highest level: “Undercover reporting, photography and surveillance video should be used rarely and a case must be made that the story to be uncovered is of high public interest,” the policy states.

Continue reading this story on the Toronto Star website, where it was first published.