Journalism in disguise

standpoint theory and the ethics of Günter Wallraff's undercover immersion

Willa McDonald, Bunty Avieson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Deception is a key element of immersive undercover journalism, achieved through the omission of information, the perpetuation of misconceptions, or possibly the assumption of a false identity. Usually when proponents defend going undercover, they use the-ends-justify-the-means arguments; that despite the journalist’s duplicity, public benefit outweighs the dishonesty that lies at the heart of the practice. Yet, such statements are usually made in the absence of in-depth theoretical analysis. This paper seeks to redress this by applying Standpoint Theory, testing it against the work of Günter Wallraff, Germany’s lauded but controversial undercover journalist who uses disguises to report on that country’s marginalized and disadvantaged. While the authors applaud Wallraff’s exposure of the deplorable illegal and immoral dealings he uncovers, and do not seek to dismiss the significant results he has achieved, this paper uses the case study of his work to test the applicability of Standpoint Theory to undercover journalism, concluding that even under this accommodating theory, there may be ethical limits to journalism’s most ethically contentious practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-47
Number of pages14
JournalJournalism Practice
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Günter Wallraff
  • immersion journalism
  • journalism ethics
  • Kwami Ogonno
  • Standpoint theory
  • undercover journalism

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