Rob Spence’s prosthetic eye hidden camera raises issues regarding hidden cameras in documentary programs. There’s no doubt incredible things can be captured using hidden cameras. But when are hidden cameras okay to use, if at all? And is this an ethical practice?
CNBC is premiering a documentary tonight called “Cruise Inc: Big Money on the High Seas,” hosted by travel correspondent and investigative reporter Peter Greenberg. The hour-long program features the Norwegian Pearl of the Norwegian Cruise Line‘s fleet.
According to the CNBC Web site, “Big ships cost big money, and one misstep, whether it’s bad weather, a late departure or even running short on beer, can mean the difference between profits and loss.”
The program seems to be more about showing people the extravagance and what goes into making cruises great, but this program could take a turn if hidden cameras were used to uncover some dirty secrets of the cruise industry.
That sort of reporting is often done by NBC’s “Dateline.” Consider the phrases often used: “we took our Dateline cameras undercover” or “Dateline decided to use hidden cameras to find out.” “Dateline” reporters have uncovered dirty secrets of fast food chains, iPod thieves, and work conditions in Bangladesh.
“There are times when using hidden cameras may be the only way to effectively tell an important story about a significant issue,” according to Bob Steele in the article “High Standards for Hidden Cameras.” Steele also writes, hidden cameras are sometimes used glutinously and as a “promotional device rather than a legitimate journalistic tool.”
In an article with Gaezette.com, Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute similarly said, ” ‘The reason to go undercover is not to generate ratings and promotion. The reason to go undercover is to generate stories of real value to journalism.’ “
Steele renders hidden camera ethics should be set very high to stay within the law, to respect people’s safety, and to ensure quality journalism.