Fake reporters a cop-out

An OPP officer posed as a journalist during last year’s Aboriginal Day of Action protests to get to the front lines, courts heard last week.

Const. Steve Martell admitted he had a video camera and was close enough to recognize protestors’ faces.

While his tape didn’t lead to arrests, Martell’s action raises the question of whether it’s ethical for officers to pose as journalists to attract unsuspecting people to talk to them.

This isn’t the first time a police officer has impersonated a reporter. CBC News reported on July 24 that a Vancouver officer pretending to be a journalist lured a protestor to his arrest last year.

When police officers pose as reporters, they threaten to destroy journalists’ hard-earned credibility.

Reporters follow a set protocol, which requires them to identify themselves before interviewing anyone. In sensitive situations like the Day of Action protests, where the atmosphere allows for charged—sometimes incriminating—things to be said, it becomes more important to respect this protocol.

The press is expected to be unbiased, granting them access to people who might not be as comfortable talking to law enforcers.

If people begin to mistrust the media, they might hesitate to be candid in their comments, making it difficult for reporters to get the full story and limiting what the public hears about important news.

Officers should always be clear about their motives when going into any type of undercover work. It’s a different issue entirely when an officer poses as a dealer to bust a drug ring than if she or he pretends to be a reporter to identify protestors and gather information for an undeclared purpose.

People should always be reassured that, when talking to a journalist, their comments won’t be used to incriminate them. The police force, which touts itself as a defender of the law, should begin practicing the ethics it preaches.

It may be easier to get information wearing a reporter’s hat than a police officer’s shoes, but the police need to find a more honest way of operating before they destroy people’s faith in both institutions.

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