Alleged Rob Ford video raises ethical dilemma

TORONTO – A campaign by American news website to raise $200,000 to pay for an alleged video showing what could be Mayor Rob Ford smoking something that looks like crack-cocaine is raising an ethical dilemma for news agencies across North America – should news organizations pay for stories?

Last week, Gawker editor John Cook alleged he had seen a video recorded in December by apparent drug dealers in the Kipling Avenue and Dixon Road area of Toronto.

The alleged video, Cook says, shows what could be Ford smoking what looks could be crack-cocaine.

The mayor has called the allegations “ridiculous.”

Now Gawker has set up an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the $200,000 to buy the video.

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Ryerson University journalism Professor Marsha Barber said that there is significant problem with paying sources for information.

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“We’re walking on very thin ice,” Barber said. “It’s no longer a journalistic process, it’s a financial process.”

News outlets – including Global News – commonly pay freelance video-journalists or photographers for video or photos related to a story, however, those people Barber points out, are objective observers of the story.

“In this case, we’re talking about video by people deeply involved, entrenched in the stories, possibly an alleged dealer even, so it’s a very different process,” Barber said.

READ MORE: Past legal troubles, substance abuse allegations in the life of Mayor Ford

According to Gawker, the video is owned by Somali drug dealers living in west Toronto. They are looking for $200,000 in order to move out of Toronto, the website said.

As of writing, Gawker’s campaign has raised approximately $76,000.

Cook says Gawker commonly pays for video, photos or other information.

“It’s very, very common in the U.S. for broadcast television outlets to pay,” Cook said. “The paramount thing from my perspective is that this video get out. If what needs to happen is for the people that own the video to get compensated for that, I’m perfectly willing to let that happen.”

Global News has not seen and cannot verify the authenticity of the alleged video.

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– With files from Minna Rhee

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