The abuse of the powers of the press may be dictated by governments, media owners, key advertisers, publishers, managing editors, or department chiefs, but be carried out only, by working reporters, broadcasters and writers. Journalistic disregard of ethical conduct in spreading calumny, incitement to hatred or to war, leakage of official secrets, inaccuracy and the spreading of rumour as if it were fact, may produce a credibility gap with the public, or it may encourage political repression, harassment and a threat to journalistic immunity. Unethical journalists may bait or entrap subjects into actions or statements; may use illegal surveillance techniques; or may invade the right of privacy of individuals. ExposÃ©s may even cause the death of sometimes blameless individuals, by suicide or by self-appointed avengers or mobs. Journalists serving international news cable services may report biased accounts or claim to witness events at which, in fact, they were not present.
'Cheque-book journalism' is the practice of media executives to pay the actors in sensational events, sometimes criminals, to give an exclusive, inside story to a particular newspaper, magazine or broadcasting station, and to deny access of journalistic competitors. A journalist is assigned to ghost-write the story in the name of the key actor, or in the case of a broadcast, the journalist scripts or coaches the narrator beforehand. Public understanding of AIDS, of race relations and of sexual relations are some of the arenas in which press sensationalism has greviously distorted, creating unnecessary suffering.