In early 1980s, former tennis player Arthur Ashe was diagnosed to be positive for AIDS, after receiving a blood transfusion which was carrying the virus. He decided to disclose the news, keeping it private to only a few close family and friends. Someone he told tipped off the USA Today as they later called asking him to confirm if it was true that he had the disease. Ashe then realised his story was soon to become public and knew he had to decide whether he should make the news public himself first or let the media do it.
Ashe requested that the editor allow him 36 hours before the paper ran the story so he could be prepared with a statement, and the editor responded with “as a journalist, it was not my role to help him plan a press conference – and it was inappropriate for me to withhold a news story that I could confirm.”
At the very last minute, Ashe managed to hold a press conference where he expressed his anger towards the media, criticising them for “forcing him into the unenviable position of having to lie” in order to protect his family’s privacy, or to go public with what he considered private information.” A clip from the conference can be accessed here.
The reporter’s actions conflicted the ways in which journalists should act today in regard to ethical and moral duties. The main ethical issue being addressed in the case is about the journalist’s refusal to wait for Ashe’s approval to publish the story on his medical condition. The journalists story did not provide the public with any educational information on the topic, meaning they were purely just publishing it to feed the hungry readers of the USA Today and consequently did more harm to Ashe, than good to society.
The reporter acted unethically in this case and could have acted in alternative ways that would have been deemed more ethical and wouldn’t have ignored their responsibilities as a journalist. The journalist could have first asked to speak to Ashe confidentially about the virus or asked whether or not he would like to work together in creating a HIV awareness report to publish for the paper. As a journalist, these methods would both have been more ethical approaches in that they were respecting Ashe’s privacy.
Privacy is defined as “the right to be free from surveillance and to determine whether, when, how and whom, one’s personal or organisational information is to be revealed.”
The US Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics is a guide that addresses any changes in journalistic practices. The SPJ states “Recognise that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy”
What can save the journalist from liability issues depends on a number of factors: their word choice (whether it was opinion or facts), the public rights to know the story and their intentions with the story. As Ashe had not given consent to the story being published and wanted to keep it private, the reporter could have published the story keeping Ashe anonymous or found an alternative approach to convince the former tennis star.
Under the Privacy Act (1988), in the Australian Privacy Principle 2, clause 2.1 it states that “individuals must have the option of not identifying themselves, or of using a pseudonym when dealing with an APP entity in relation to a particular matter.”
Had the case taken place in Australia, Ashe’s story would have fallen under similar codes of ethics and privacy laws and could have been published with an anonymous name in order to maintain his own privacy, had the journalist recognised their ethical and moral roles as a reporter.
Australian Government OAIC, n.d., ‘Privacy Act’, Date accessed 5/5/18, https://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy-law/privacy-act/
Australian Government OAIC, n.d., ‘Privacy Fact Sheet 17: Australian Privacy Principles’, Date accessed 1/5/18, https://www.oaic.gov.au/individuals/privacy-fact-sheets/general/privacy-fact-sheet-17-australian-privacy-principles
Business Dictionary, n.d., ‘Privacy’, Date accessed 1/5/18, http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/privacy.html
Le, J 2013, ‘Assignment 2: Case Study Analysis’, Date accessed 2/5/18, https://prezi.com/ngod2r2sntts/assignment-2-case-study-analysis/
Weebly, n.d., ‘Case Study: Arthur Ashe and Invasion of Privacy’, Date accessed 5/5/18, http://j397mediaethics.weebly.com/uploads/6/4/2/2/6422481/casestudy-2.pdf