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Jonathan Marshall’s methods

By Steven | March 29, 2011

I have been contacted by a student at Victoria University who said he was approached by the Sunday Star-Times’ Jonathan Marshall at university last week, on the hunt for information about the 18-year-old at the centre of the Darren Hughes incident.

He said Marshall asked him to go to a university office and pretend to be a long-lost friend of the 18-year-old and ask for his class timetable. The student said he refused, and good on him.

I note the Press Council’s principle on subterfuge states:

The use of deceit and subterfuge can only be condoned in cases when the information sought is in the public interest and cannot be obtained by any other means.

If the student’s account is accurate, I don’t think there can be much doubt that Marshall was trying to use deceit and subterfuge here, even if he was enlisting someone else to do the actual dirty work. Was it, then, really in the public interest? And mightn’t there be other ways of getting this information?

I think journalists and the public probably admire crafty resourcefulness in the pursuit of an important story. And Marshall certainly breaks a lot of prominent stories. He gets information that others can’t. I’m sure that’s partly due to his excellent contacts and his tenacity. But I suspect this little incident opens a window onto his less ethical methods.

UPDATE: Jonathan Marshall emailed to criticise me for not contacting him for comment before publishing this post. It’s a fair cop. So I asked him for his response to the allegation. So far, he hasn’t replied.

UPDATE 2: This just in from Sunday Star-Times editor David Kemeys:

I have had your post about the conduct of Jonathan Marshall brought to my attention. It is complete fantasy. I have checked with people who were actually there, and there is nothing to suggest this supposed incident ever took place. Pretty disappointing stuff from someone who purports to be a media lawyer.

UPDATE 3: The student insists his memory is accurate.

Topics: Media ethics, Press Council | 25 Comments »

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