December 18, 2014
The hacking and subsequent publishing of emails between senior executives at Sony last week caused quite an uproar. The racially charged remarks about President Obama as well as disparaging comments about actors and directors caused serious embarrassment for their authors.
Hacking violates the important value of privacy and in most cases it is illegal. No ethical dilemmas here, it is just wrong.
Privacy is a human right that is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 which states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
I find the Sony hacking story interesting from two different ethical aspects.
For one, the role of the media in dealing with information that has been illegally obtained is problematic. Should the media or anyone for that matter, publicize information that has been obtained illegally and that violates someone’s privacy?
Andrew Wallenstein, co-editor of Variety is asking the right question in the December 11, 2014 issue of the magazine. He says that he wonders whether he is somehow “complicit with these nefarious hackers by relaying the details of seemingly every pilfered terabyte.” He, however, concludes, erroneously, in my view that “Journalism is, in some sense, permissible thievery. We occasionally catch wind of what our subjects would rather us not know, and we don’t hesitate to report it if it contributes to an understanding of what we’re writing about.”
One of the arguments in favor of such publication is the “public right to know.” Andrea Laksmiwardani, from the Department of Communication at Taylor’s University, in her article Right to Know versus Infringement of Privacy, published by Journalism Ethics believes that: “Publics have the right to be aware of the things that concern their safety or things that might affect their way of living.” She adds that: “Journalists should always consider the right of individuals’ privacy, even if it is contradicting with the public’s right to know.
Secondly, as to the “public” (you and me?) are we morally entitled to be entertained by the shameful exposure of the privacy of others?
We, as a society, should determine the kind of media we believe we deserve. It is the public’s demand for the sensational and ludicrous that creates the market for a media that satisfies those very demands.
One of the roles of ethics in society is precisely to try to change a culture that does not uphold strong ethical values.
As author and poet, Henry Van Dyke once said:
“Culture is the habit of being pleased with the best and knowing why.”