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The case of Anas Amereyaw Anas, the award-winning investigative journalist who has made more news headlines himself than the scandal-prone subjects of his investigations, has for several years now, kept playing up a rather clouded concept of investigative journalism.

There is Anas the private investigator and patriot, who through the secret filming of scenes, has exposed all manner of social ills from the shocking to the sordid, from wellness and fitness centre staff giving foreign diplomats in Accra blow jobs through smuggling and corruption to human trafficking and child prostitution.

Then there is Anas the investigative journalist who works on the Crusading Guide newspaper. Lumping Anas the private investigator and Anas the journalist together, could give young Ghanaian journalists with an interest in and a flair for investigative journalism, an inaccurate picture of this form of journalism.

A private investigator may employ methods of evidence gathering that may be deemed acceptable in his profession {assuming that he is a professionally trained private detective} but it may be unethical for a professional journalist whose work is  bound by the ethics of the profession, to employ the same methods.

Anas operates under the umbrella of a private security company called Tiger Eye. An obvious question relating to his characteristic use of video and audio recording gadget to expose wrong doing is this: Are his activities work of journalism or the work of a private investigative company?

If it is the work of a private company, is the company a non-profit-making one rendering philanthropic service to society or one that operates for profit? If it operates for profit how is it benefitting from the exposure of social ills by the squander of so much time, mone and other resources?

If it is work of journalism then it would be unfair to suggest as some have done, that the question of professional ethics does not arise. If that is indeed the case, then why, doctors should feel free to perform illegal aboriton any day. The ethics of the journalism are aimed at ensuring truthfulness, objectivity, balance, fairness and accuracy in reporting and it will be social disaster if advanced communication technology is to wipe those values out

Journalism’s ethics define standards, principles, and values regarding what are right in terms of professional conduct and what is not. Investigative journalists cannot operate outside these ethics.

Anas’s approach to investigative journalists focuses on going incognito sometimes in bizarre disguises, entrapping his subjects and then video and audio recording them. Entrapment falls within the general categories of deception and subterfuge.

Deception in the course of investigative journalism is considered in most instances, unethical. It is one thing for Anas the private detective to routinely and systematically employ subterfuge in the course of his investigations. It is another thing to systematically and serially employ deception in the practice of investigative journalism or any other form of journalism.

Deception happens when a journalist uses deceptive methods, such as the misrepresentation of the journalist’s true identity, the use of hidden cameras and recorders and entrapment of the subjects of an investigation.

The issue of intent is important in law and in the administration of justice: Did the 34 judges plan to receive the monies Anas paid to them or were they minding their own business when Anas came along and lured them to accept money employing the tactic of entrapment, to rpove that judges are corrupt.

There are those like Lawyer Ace Ankomah who argue that Anas cannot be arraigned before a court of law on charges of entrapment because in law, entrapment only occurs when a law enforcement officer or other agent of state causes someone to commit an offence in order that he should be prosecuted. There are however other potential dangers for the non-government agent who employs entrapment to nail a potential suspect. Anas may count him doubly lucky indeed, that he has not ended up in jail for all his troubles, because as he has himself admitted, some of the judges he tried to bribe only stopped short of sending him to prison.

You try to bribe a judge and he/she orders your arrest and prosecution with the barest minimum of delay, and soon you are in the hot cooler!

Technology has made a fairly wide range of devices available for undercover evidence gathering:  There are available on the market, sunglasses equipped with fibre-optic video cameras, shirt buttons that are actually surveillance microphones and pens which the moment they are pulled from a breast pocket, activate a tiny tape recorder.

There are hidden video cameras in special paper clips, watches, baseball caps, water bottles, hand bags etc on the market. Whether it is ethical for journalists to buy and use them is another matter, but there is an emerging threat to this kind of technology:  There are now counter surveillance gadgets on the market that let a subject know that or she is being audio or video recorded.

In spite of all the foregoing, there are facts that must be faced in the context of the dilemma Anas’s covert operations present: Those who engage in unethical, criminal and other illegal behaviour will often not cooperate with or be truthful with an investigative journalist. For this reason, it has been argued that in exceptional cases, deception may be used. The question is when is deception justified?

Deception is generally thought to be justified in cases where the information obtained is of critical importance to society and other ways of getting it have been tried by the investigative journalist without success.

Deception is also thought to be justified where the journalist is willing to disclose the nature of the deception that was employed and the reasons for it. It must also be demonstrated that the harm to society or the public which was prevented by reporting that information using deception, far outweighs any harm caused by the deception.

It is to be noted here that deception even where it is proven to have been justified is was employed to PREVENT an action with the potential to harm society. 

It must also be demonstrated that the investigative journalist did not use deception as a short cut in an investigation and that he/she first expended time, effort, and resources to pursue the story fully.

Tempting as it may sometimes be, taking short cuts in investigative journalism could lead to the prosecution of innocent people or cause public disaffection for and turn public opinion against people and public institutions which have done no wrong.

Deception is thought not to be justified where the journalist’s motivation is to win a journalism prize or ‘out scoop’ competition from other journalists and media.

In those special instances when deception may be employed, the investigative reporter must be free of obligation to any interest groups and have the public’s right to know as his/her prime motive.

In the meantime, some say that in fighting judicial corruption, some attention must be focused on the Bar as well, because it is the Bar that gives birth to the Bench and there is no way the Bench can be clean if the Bar from which the Bench originates, is filthy.