IT WOULD be easy to play the righteous journalist card and talk about the police trampling over the fourth estate and the principles of free speech and public interest when it comes to the police search of Heather du Plessis-Allan's property. The TV3 reporter and presenter on Story gained notoriety this year when she seemingly bypassed all conventional checks and balances by the state to demonstrate how easy it was to purchase a firearm online.
I do not in any way support the idea of investigative journalism -- a dying concept the world over -- being subject to the heavy scrutiny of police. But, on a basic level, I get it. The police will operate on the basis of cause and effect. If they believe a crime has been committed -- their contention regarding the reporter's actions -- then the effect will be a police investigation, and possible prosecution. Their role is to uphold the law, and they would argue no one is above the law.
As journalists, we are taught that we are servants to public interest, the public depends on us to find the answers when conventional citizens cannot. And we are taught there are extremes when the public interest is so important that certain niceties of society come second place. Often, we would put ethical behaviour before the fine print of legislation.
On the basis of a "crime" by a reporter, it should be a matter for the courts to determine, first, what was the intent, and secondly, who are the victims?
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Ms du Plessis-Allan's intent was not to commit a crime with the purchased weapon. Her only intent was to prove, for the purposes of a story, you can purchase a firearm online without going through the proper channels. Who suffers from her actions? Nobody. It's a victimless situation.
A reporter could do many things in the name of public interest, such as lighting a fire to demonstrate the slow reaction of fire crews. A reporter could sleep with a government minister to get hot information. The result could benefit the public, but both are highly unethical.
In pursuit of the public interest, Ms du Plessis-Allan has harmed nobody, has not compromised her integrity and has no intent to cause ill to society. I applaud Story's investigative journalism endeavour, and look forward to see what the courts say.