Recently, W5, a Canadian current events program ran a story that focused on a growing pornography addiction trend that many young people are experiencing. Within the episode “Generation XXX,” a twelve year old boy was interviewed, where he discussed his own personal struggle with this addiction and the consequences he is currently experiencing in his life. I am purposefully omitting the boy’s name, because I personally think that the producers of the show breached journalistic ethics in not keeping the boy’s identity anonymous. Within the program, the boy’s name, age, province and home were all shown. The family believes that sharing the boy’s experience will benefit other families, and alert parents to their own children’s Internet use, given that this boy was only eleven when he first discovered the adult content. I don’t think that the ‘shock value’ effect the producers and family were seeking justifies the permanence of having personal information available to the public for the rest of this boy’s life. I don’t believe that children are old enough to give consent to have their personal information released, because they are unable to understand the lifelong consequences, making the technicalities of consent for the release of information and achieving informed consent impossible.
There is always potential to breach ethics when performing interviews, and it seems that reasonable care taken to avoid possible harm to the interviewee is only as much as the law requires. Within the W5 interview, having a young boy discuss the type of pornography he watches could definitely cause stigmatization for himself within his peer group, which is a specific ethics breach regarding harm for the interviewee within interviewing ethics (“Unite for Sight,” n.d.). Producers of W5 no doubt explained to the boy and his family about the possible negative effects that the interview may bring, but I don’t believe that a child at twelve years old is fully capable of making a such a permanent decision. Besides having his personal history discussed, I believe that labelling a young person as having an addiction, when ‘sex-addiction’ and ‘porn-addiction’ are two fairly new topics with little research available may be problematic to his self-identity and self-worth in the future. Revealing this private information, as well as the label of an ‘addict’ will no doubt isolate him to some extent from his peers, as well as the potential for creating barriers for his future partners, or even employers to look past. This is where I believe that W5 has made a mistake in revealing the boy’s identity, because he will not have the opportunity to disclose this information to whom he chooses; his story is now, and will always be accessible to everyone.
Modern reality television serves as a modified, slightly more calculated interview as well, and I think that television today is doing a great disservice to children. I think that most, if not all personal information in regards to children should be confidential, and for it to certainly not available for the entertainment of viewers. The W5 episode is not the only program that I have watched that seems to have a shaky grasp on ethics. If children are deemed not capable to drive a car, vote, have sex, and drink alcohol, why are we assuming that they, along with their guardians, are intuitive enough to make a decision to review and understand all possible risks that come with releasing information to the public? One example that made me physically cringe was an episode of a reality television show that follows a young transgender girl’s life, I Am Jazz. Film crews were allowed access into Jazz’s doctor appointment, where her hormone levels and changing body were discussed. It seems that morality was left behind when this young child was shown discussing her developing breasts and future sexual activity to millions of viewers.
There are indispensable benefits of discussing and exploring the topics that people usually shy away from for our society to continue moving forward. I don’t object to the fact that Jazz has her own reality television show, or that a young boy wants to warn others about the dangers of the Internet. I object to the fact that private information is being treated as a commodity in our society, and that children seem to be bestowed with the rights of adults when it is convenient, and more often, profitable for us.