Using “leaked” reports is just one more example of newspapers and other media being unethical. When you think about it, if a person or organisation has paid for a report, that information belongs to them. To “leak” it is to steal it. Perhaps that is why we called it “leaked” because that word tries to cover up the fact that “leaking” someone else’s information without permission is, in fact, stealing. Some writers on this topic say “leaked or stolen”, but there is no OR! Whatever, the motive – financial gain or the perception that one is doing a public service- the person leaking the information is stealing and therefore being unethical.
Using “leaked” reports (stolen goods) is therefore unethical. Newspaper and other media who use “leaked” reports are therefore trading in and benefiting from stolen good. Of course when we say newspaper or radio and TV pogrammes are unethical, we mean the editors who make the decision to publish “leaked” reports are behaving unethically. We know the motives .. to be the hero who gets a story – the exclusive. This the editors will claim is career enhancing for them. But the deeper motive is financial. To be controversial, to gain as many readers or viewers as possible and therefore increase sales and advertising revenue.
THE PUBLIC GOOD?
Editors will claim that using “leaked reports” is doing a public good, fulfilling the public’s right to know. However, we know that in most cases this is just an excuse. The objective is to embarrass the person or people who commissioned the report and gain readers or viewers. In fact, it is likely that publishing “leaked” report may a) cause the public distress and b) make it difficult for the legitimate owners of the reports to action what they need to and hence damage the organisation/person in some way. The ethical use of “leaked” reports is to pass them onto the appropriate authorities if there is something is going on that i criminal or will in some other way harm the public good.