4.8. – What are the conditions for working undercover?

The 1971 harder of Munich was an important document for professional ethics. It stated that the journalist must not “use unfair methods to obtain information, photographs and documents.”

While most editorial organisations agree that journalists must make clear that they are journalists when practising their trade, they also accept exceptions to this rule may be necessary – in totalitarian countries or in war zones, and also to obtain information which is of public interest that cannot be obtained in the usual ways.

In what conditions should a journalist work undercover?

Complete answers


De Standaard : Rarely used

De Standaard seldom uses this method of investigation. It is used more by television journalists.

Working undercover is only authorised if no other means are possible and only applies to prominent news stories. One rule is systematically enforced: the person in question is contacted afterwards and offered the option of expressing their point of view.


Europe 1 : Case by case

In principle, the head of News is not against this but it is not encouraged either. It is assessed on a case by case basis.

France 24 : If there is no other option

France 24 does not authorise this practice except in countries where reporting openly is not possible. In a democratic context, experienced journalists might need to use a hidden camera for certain types of subjects.

Le Monde : This is not allowed

Working without revealing your identity as a journalist is considered a professional offence, unless the journalist’s life is in danger.

Ouest France : This is not allowed

The first principle of the photo charter for Ouest France stipulates that unauthorised photos are forbidden. It also forbidden to use unfair means to obtain information.


Berliner Zeitung : Rarely needed

Berliner Zeitung journalists seldom have the need to work undercover so there is no internal rule about it. The Editor-in-Chief will make the final decision if this is necessary.

ZDF : Nothing is officially defined


The Irish Times : Not allowed


Polskie Radio, kanal 3 : Not used

United Kingdom

BBC : With authorisation

Hidden cameras must be validated by the hierarchy and/or the controlling department for editorial policy.

The BBC enters totalitarian countries undercover.

The Guardian : With authorisation

If a journalist feels information cannot be obtained in another way, they must make a special request to their commissioning editor. This will be indicated in the article.