Is NBC Entering Into ‘Potentially Dicey Ethical Territory?’

By Chris Ariens 

The Washington Post‘s Paul Farhi wonders whether NBC is wading “into potentially dicey ethical territory” with a deal to produce a documentary about a sensational murder and kidnapping story that played out over the summer.

Hannah Anderson, the California teen kidnapped by a man who had murdered her mother and brother, is reportedly in negotiations for a documentary produced by NBC’s Peacock Productions.

Anderson has only done interviews with NBC News, which, the network says, it did not pay for. “NBC News never pays for interviews,” an NBC News spokeswoman tells Farhi.

If the deal goes ahead, Peacock Productions would compensate the Anderson family to license footage and personal materials for the documentary. ABC News stopped paying license fees for interviews in 2011. At the time ABC News president Ben Sherwood said the practice was something of a black eye on the news division.

“No matter how they couch it, they’re offering money in exchange for an exclusive story,” says Kevin Z. Smith, the chairman of the ethics committee of the Society of Professional Journalists. “The networks have figured out new and different approaches” to paying sources, he says.

It’s not clear when or where the doc will air. Peacock Productions often sells programs to non-NBCU networks.

Meahwhile, a new book on the tragedy is critical of Hannah Anderson’s story. The author, criminal profiler Chelsea Hoffman, says there are inconsistencies in Hannah’s NBC interviews and how the crimes occurred.