In a copyright case, documents were released with portions redacted. The redaction was poorly done. Would it be generally considered ethical in most legitimate news organizations for a journalist to use this information in a report? It doesn't concern a minor or victim. The issue is that it could be embarrassing for one of the parties and may impact their ability to do business.

Note-- The original text is trivially accessible.

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    This is about ethics and law, not about writing. I've asked the mods to migrate to Law SE. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 21:03
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    A mod from Law has indicated that they don't handle questions about journalistic ethics. This will likely get closed if send there. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 2:05
  • I don't understand if this is a question of law or ethics. Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 15:45
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    I really don't understand what you are asking here. As a journalist, maybe you could use your ability and rewrite your question so that we, who are not in your head, can understand it?
    – user5645
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 16:16
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    I think if you give full disclosure around the redacted material and give a balanced report, I think you will be fine and let the reader decide what opinions they want to take from it. This is actually responsible, IMHO
    – iMerchant
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 0:26

1 Answer 1


Looking at the ethics code posted in the comments by @MarkBaker which can be found here you can see that there is no clear indication about your specific case. Especially because we can't possibly know exactly what you are writing we can't give you any concrete feedback and you should be cautious about this case. In any case it would be better to simply ask a news organization of your choice about their specific opinion on this matter. It might very well be the case that different organizations each have a slightly different point of view on this matter.

There are a few things that I would like to cite from the the linked ethics code:

Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

If it's important to know you should mention it to give the readers a clear view on the topic so that they will be able to form their own opinion.

But at the same time:

Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.

You should be careful: if it will impact the ability of one person to do business it may very well be unethical to specifically point this person out if it's not necessary to do so.

Specifically about your mention that the information is easily available:

Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.

Yes, the readers may very well just go ahead and read the original for themselves to find out who this person is. But that doesn't mean you should broadcast to the whole world who they are (if it's not necessary).

The conclusion is that it's ultimately up to you (and possibly to the news organization you mention in the comments). The typical codes (as the one cited here and others further down) seem to say that you should mention the person only if it's necessary for the public to have this specific information.

Disclaimer: I have no experience in this field.

Here you can view some more codes to get (slightly) different points of view:

  • I was going to provide an answer that gave the scenario of finding that "the government spy's name is XYZ, and if this leaked they will be killed" has not been redacted—and then reporting the name of the spy. But your answer covers this, and more thoroughly than I would have. Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 14:53

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