The “To Catch a Predator” series on Dateline NBC was a smash hit for the network’s news division since it launched, drawing a substantial audience and public praise for bringing sex offenders to justice. It was later discovered that NBC payed an advocacy group, Perverted Justice, to set up the “Predator” sting operations featured on multiple installments of Dateline. The group’s volunteers posed as teenagers in internet chat rooms, looking for adults interested in having sex; when they arranged to meet, the network’s hidden cameras were waiting.
NBC insists it was not paying for news but, in a lawsuit brought by one of its producers, it was alleged that the payments violate the network’s own standards against conflict of interest. “Contrary to NBC Policies and Guidelines, NBC unethically pays Perverted Justice to troll for and lure targets into its sting,” the lawsuit claims, “thereby giving it a financial incentive to lie and trick targets.” Bartel (the Producer) asserts that targets sometimes are “led into additional acts of humiliation (such as being encouraged to remove their clothes) in order to enhance the comedic effect of the public exposure of these persons.”
The program also works closely with police— too closely, according to Bartel. Her complaint claims that the network provides police with video equipment and tapes so they can record the arrests they make for NBC to air. She also alleges that NBC pays or reimburses law enforcement officials to participate in the stings “in order to enhance and intensify the dramatic effect of the show.”
There are numerous and complex questions to be asked about the ethical issues that arise in this situation, questions involving entrapment, journalism, legal due process requirements, these types of news stories in general or more specifically groups like Perverted Justice. Identify the ethical issues that are raised in this case and express your opinion on how you believe they should be balanced or resolved.
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