Paper considers ‘informed consent’ for journalists

Under Canadian law, a reporter must only provide their name and employer in order to obtain legal consent to conduct an interview with someone and publish its contents. The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) is asking if that standard offers enough protection to inexperienced and/or marginalized people.

“The first duty of journalism is to serve the public interest,” said Hugo Rodrigues, CAJ president. “This can get complicated when our subjects and sources are inexperienced. Sometimes, publicly sharing their private information could lead to consequences of which they are unaware.”

‘Informed consent’ would require journalists to reveal potentially harmful consequences of disclosing private information. Is this a radical notion that potentially undermines a journalist’s ability to serve the public interest? Or is it time journalists recognized more care is needed when dealing with vulnerable people?

Led by Meredith Levine of Western’s graduate journalism program, the latest discussion paper from the CAJ Ethics Advisory Committee, On the Record: Is it Really Consent Without Discussion of Consequences?, debates this issue.

“(We) hope this discussion paper engages journalists in a lively and important debate on this issue,” Rodrigues said.

Levine was assisted by Kathy English, Toronto Star public editor; Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsperson; and Julian Sher, CBC Fifth Estate senior producer.

Levine and Sher will lead a workshop dealing with the questions raised in the paper as part of the 2014 CAJ conference in Vancouver, May 9-10.

CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.