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The One Nation sting was totally ethical

By Peter Bowden - posted Monday, 6 May 2019


Media Watch on the ABC raised the question of Al Jazeera's undercover sting. Did it go too far? Peter Greste and Chris Masters have condemned the sting. One Nation's Queensland state leader Steve Dickson and chief of staff, James Ashby were filmed by Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern media network, on a trip to the US seeking donations from the American gun lobby. Rodger Muller of Gun Rights Australia set up the introductions for One Nation. Asked how much money they were after, the One Nation pair suggested anywhere between $10 and $20 million.

The Sydney Morning Herald on March 27, 2019 also asks was it ethical? In creating the scenario in which the events were set up along the program's use of hidden cameras and microphones were the reasons why the newspaper questioned the ethics of Al Jazeera.


The Conversationalso asked whether Al Jazeera overstepped the mark. It concludes that "The public has a clear right to know what One Nation is up to. "This article goes further: that the Al Jazeera exposé was a necessary action, totally moral and decidedly in the public interest.

Peter Greste said that journalists should never create the news, only report it. He is correct, of course, but only up to a point. If the One Nation executives had not made the statements "If One Nation could get $10 million it could get 8 senators" or that Muslims "are breaking into people's homes with baseball bats", there would be no news. One Nation made the news, not Al Jazeera.

This opinion piece is hesitant to disagree with such well-regarded journalists as Peter Greste and Chris Masters. But it argues that the sting was a positive ethical move, clearly in the public interest. It was similar to blowing the whistle on a wrong doing. Whistleblowers have been castigated for centuries, only recently achieving some sort of protection in Australia. But they are not regarded highly. Greste and Masters were undoubtedly confused in balancing the public interest against the criticisms levelled at people who expose wrongdoing. They are not unique. Whistleblowers have been attacked for centuries, including by moral philosophers

One book on Business Ethics, unfortunately taught on many ethics classes throughout Australia, labels whistleblowing as akin to the " worst excesses of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia":

First, it is informing, perhaps on peers or mates. Informing was characteristic of the worst excesses of Nazi Germany or the Soviet system. It is sneaky, underhand and destroys trust in the workplace. Second, it involves disclosure of information that is owned by the organisation, not by individuals. It is theft to disclose the information without authorisation… the third objection: taking on the responsibility of looking after the public interest is arrogant and might destroy the organisation and jobs of colleagues… Fourth …might not be in a good position to judge if the public interest will be served. Fifth the act breaks an employee's contract with an employer… Sixth, an employee has only a duty to report concerns to superiors, not rectify problems personally.

This view is perhaps excessively worded, but the denigration of whistleblowers is not uncommon. Terms such as "snitching", "ratting", "informing", "turning in", or, in Australia, "dobbing" have long been associated with the practice. This article disagrees strongly, putting forward the view that exposing wrongdoing by people who are aware of the wrong is one of the most powerful ways of bringing about a more ethical society.


A definition of whistleblowing by two of the more highly regarded researchers on whistleblowing in the US, Janet Near & Marcia Miceli .

An action that brings harm or has the potential to bring harm, directly or indirectly, to the public at large, now or in the future, is an action against the public interest.

Weakening Australia's gun laws will certainly bring harm to the country, and would be against the public interest. To prevent this possibility fully justifies the Al Jazeera action.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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