Sting journalism in Czech politics: pursuing the news, or generating it?

24. července 2009 v 11:48
Civic Democrat MP Jan Morava resigned on Tuesday after being exposed as being ready to use staged photos to blackmail a party rival. But the case has raised some serious questions: can sting journalism be justified if it is used to illustrate some of the shadier practices of Czech politics? Or did the journalists in this case go too far?

In January this year, Vlastimil Tlustý, an MP for the ruling Civic Democrats, former finance minister and a critic of the party leadership, agreed to take part in a media sting operation to expose his party's top brass playing dirty to make him hold the party line. A tabloid television channel, TV Nova, manufactured a photo shoot of Mr Tlustý and a blonde stunt, and offered the photos to two senior party figures. They didn't take the bait. But another Civic Democrat MP, Jan Morava did. After the report was aired on Sunday, Mr Morava resigned - but the method used by TV Nova's reporter Janek Kroupa has left many. wondering whether or not this was a legitimate journalistic work.

"In the United States, the subject of undercover journalism is continuously under debate. My initial response to the Tlustý affair was to say that this was completely unethical because TV Nova was not an observer of a situation - it manufactured news, it created the news. And a journalist's job is to observe news, even undercover."

"I do think that this method is legitimate because we saw in the past cases such as the journalist who went through the security system at the airport. That was exactly the same situation when the journalists actually bribed the police officers to see if they accept the bribe. That's one part of the story. The other part of the story is that we do not consider the photographs of Mr Tlustý to be a proof of anything wrong; except something mad in the minds of the people who accepted those photographs."

But deception as a tool can easily backfire on those who use it. Miloš Čermák is a columnist for the Reflex magazine and a media analyst.
"There is always some level of deception, and this is risky because we in the media, we are in the business of pursuing the truth. And this might create the question if it's legitimate and not hypocritical that we are criticizing someone who is lying and deceiving while we are doing the same. So I think it's a very difficult question and we have to specific. In this specific case, I think it was a little bit unethical. I'm not completely comfortable with the method they used; I don't think they had to do in this way."

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