Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Radio News: When to use a name?

By Jessica Silliman

Dan Davidson had just started his senior year at Santa Clara University and knew he wanted to pursue a career in journalism after graduation-in fact, he already had a job lined up at a major newspaper that he had interned with over the summer. On campus, Dan was heavily involved with KSCU, the campus radio station, and as a senior had become the head of the organization. Although it was a huge responsibility, Dan loved working in radio news. It was a month into the school year and Dan thought everything was running smoothly. He had developed great rapport with his new staff and, as of yet, he hadn't encountered any major issues.

On a Monday morning, Dan was reviewing the weekend's campus safety report when he got a phone call from his friend who worked at The Santa Clara, the university's student newspaper. His friend told him that, over the weekend, a female student reported that a local worker had attempted to rape her. Dan immediately called the Santa Clara Police Department to verify the information. He was transferred to the police officer covering the case. He told Dan that the report filed by the female had been called into question.

An hour later, the police officer called Dan and said that officers had found the report to be false-the young woman had made up the story in an attempt to implicate the local worker. Dan wasn't sure what to do with this latest piece of information. He knew that KSCU had to cover the story, but he didn't know if the female student's name should be used.

"The female student obviously did this out of pain," Dan said. "But she did allegedly commit a crime." It was against the law to make such a false report.

"It felt like a lose-lose situation: Running the name would label the female student and embarrass her, but not running the name could be seen as a cover-up," said Dan.

After discussing the issue with his staff and his faculty advisor, Dan decided that KSCU would run the name of the girl in their story. He felt that withholding her name would set a poor precedent for the rest of the school year. As a dedicated journalist, he felt you couldn't take these issues on a casual basis in which exceptions were easily made against their principle that favored disclosure.

When Dan picked up The Santa Clara that week, he saw that the paper had the same story of the false report, but had chosen not to run the girl's name. Although this caused some questioning in Dan' s mind, he still felt he had done the right thing.

Discussion Questions:

  • What are the benefits and harms of disclosing the name of the female student?
  • Is there any significant difference between disclosure in a newspaper and on the radio?
  • Do you agree with Dan's decision to disclose the name? Why or why not?
  • Ethically, who took the right course of action-KSCU or The Santa Clara?

Jessica Silliman was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

June 2007


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