Baywatch Ethics Case Study

Baywatch Ethics Case Study

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Baywatch Case Study

When a company decides to execute a strategic decision, the decision will concern its stakeholders, either through the making of the decision itself or through implementation of the decision. Although strategic decisions are generally made "to attain superior performance" (Hill, Charles) improving the welfare of the internal stakeholders, the attainment of this goal may cause the entity to disregard their notion of right and wrong moral principles in order to achieve that goal.

In relation to the case study of Baywatch, it can be argued that the executive producer’s behaviour (Greg Bonnan) in dealing with the different states in which relocation was desired can be seen, in different aspects to be both ethical and unethical.

The task of business ethics is to make sure business decisions encompass an ethical element, and to make sure that managers take ethical implications of strategic decisions into account before choosing a line of action.

When determining wether a business decision is ethical, three models can be used in the classification process. Briefly summarised the three models can be seen to be:
1. Utilitarian Model – an ethical decision is one that results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of stakeholders.
2. Morals Rights Model – an ethical decision is one that best maintains and protects the rights and civil liberties of stakeholders.
3. Justice Model – an ethical decision is one that allocates benefits and harm among stakeholders fairly and equitable.

Bonnan’s choice to relocate the show away from the US was made with the intent to, re-energise the show, save money and improve ratings. Therefore was done so with the intent to revitalises the show, as to win back viewers, in turn keeping the show alive.

Originally Baywatch wanted to relocate to Avalon Beach. The series of events following the rejection of the show by the NSW government and Pittwater council are vital in the evaluation of the ethical conduct of the show’s producers.

Upon Bonnan’s expressed interest in locating to Queensland and hence visit to, government leaders were quick to display their enthusiasm. A mere three days after Bonnan’s arrival an “in-principle agreement” was secured to formally be signed a week later. The drafting of this “agreement” implied that the deal “was as good as done” (Niesche, C). This was the point in time where the problem started to arise as the Queensland government was assured that Bonnan’s trip to Hawaii a sort time after was simply a courtesy call, so to speak.

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The Hawaiian Government was keen to secure the Baywatch relocation as well as Queensland and, both were prepared to fight for the title. However it was clear that the incentives offered by Hawaii were ample to those offered by Queensland. Therefore Bonnan used Queensland as leverage, in order to secure the deal with Hawaii and maximise the number of payoffs in order to make the switch as profitable as possible.

The questionable conduct displayed by Baywatch at this point in time can be seen to be, using the Queensland government as a bargaining chip, in turn leaving them in the dark. Bonnan even contacted Gibbs (Queensland Tourism Minister) on a daily basis to reassure him of their definite commitment to the Queensland deal. This is seen to display Bonnan not weighing up the ethical implications of his strategic decisions or maybe even simply disregarding them. He was ultimately lying to the tourism minister as he knew that the Queensland deal didn’t even compare with Hawaii’s offers. But nevertheless this reassurance still continued, a draft contract was even faxed to Bonnan who stated that it was “very acceptable” (Ibid). When Bonnan’s return to Queensland was continually postponed without stated reason government officials caught on. It was understood that stalling on the Queensland deal was an attempt to exploit both bidders, having the option to take whichever bidder offered the most attractive offer. This behaviour resulted, ultimately in humiliation, as it was clear to Gibbs that Currumbin beach was the chosen destination. Gibbs even spoke of taking legal action. This implies that Bonnan indeed acted unethically, fooling the Government, in order to fulfil their own desired intentions. This is therefore an example of Bonnan, acting contrary to both the Utilitarian and the Justice Models. The Utilitarian model, because Bonnan’s behaviour and ultimate decision only produced satisfaction for Baywatch and Hawaii, disregarding the welfare of the Queensland government when friction could have been avoided. Also the Justice model because the harm and benefits were not distributed in a fair and equitable way, Queensland effectively received all the harm.

However, apart from Baywatch’s questionable conduct exhibited in the case study, there are other ethical issues present. Although the benefits for being the location Baywatch was to move to were vast, and therefore coveted, Bonnan’s requests can be said to be unreasonable and manipulative. While meeting with various members of government, in the end Bonnan requested the Government provide two million dollars to pay for relocation costs. If the agreement was to be formalised it would have meant that Baywatch would have “privileged” access to the beach. This access incorporated such advantages such as; priority access to the beach, meaning that it could not be used while filming was conducted. Also the show would receive free fire and police services, which meant that the duties of these public paid employees were used, not to help the public but to serve the show. Surely the public would not have enjoyed their hard earned tax dollars contributing to the filming of an American television show. Also it was proposed that the effects of the show would be seen to be detrimental to the beach environment. It was know by Avalon residents that the show had destroyed Santa Monica beaches and they were not about to let that happen to their beach (Macken, D.). Hence why the “Anti Baywatch Action Group” (Macken, D.) was established, that in turn succeeded in its goal of stoping the show from obtaining control their shores.

Ethical problems are also evident with dealings with the Hawaiian Government and unions. Baywatch was requesting that the Teamsters union (representing drivers; truck, chauffeurs) make salary and wage reductions of about 30% for the six years of production. Now this was a huge reduction in employee’s income, and a big sacrifice for the union members to make for the sake, and for the welfare of the state of Hawaii. It was a sacrifice that the Teamsters leader refused to make, and with this decision, an unnecessarily amount of pressure was placed on the union leader, in order to make him comply. An amount of pressure again not warranted for, or necessary. This situation could have been avoided by Bonnan accepting his refusal and easing his requirements, in turn, settling the stalemate.

It can be seen, by examining this case study, that an evaluation on the ethical standard of conduct, exhibited by the producers of Baywatch and other issues throughout the study can be obtained. According to personal assessment, the pitching of the two states in competition with one another may have been acceptable but the exploitation of the states may be deemed questionable. However in making this evaluation it must be taken into account that the producers aim was simply to make as easiest a transition to the new location, trying to keep the show alive. Therein lies the dilemma, when making a strategic business decision, which stakeholder’s needs are more important, if at all? And although a decision may be unethical, if it maximises or heightens the position of shareholders or internal stakeholders dramatically, shouldn’t it be undertaken regardless of its implications? This is the decision that managers or decision makers must face, and it is these decisions that will affect the entity in the future, positively or negatively dependant on the degree of probable unethical conduct.


Hill, C. Jones, G. Galvin P. Haidar, A. 2007, Strategic Management, An integrated approach, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Macken, D. 1999a ibid

Macken, D. 1999a ibid; - 1999a ibid Saluzsinszky, I. 1999, ‘Strife’s a beach: Avalon’s squabble over surf and turf’, Australian Financial Review, 22 Feb., p.55

Niesche, C. 1999 Ibid
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