There are a number of ethical issues involved in leading and organizing DXpeditions. As the DXpedition collects donations and intends to fill a need, certain “expectations” are made to the DXpedition group.
Some of these are quite normal and to be expected. Almost every DXpedition team intends to do a good job and to fill the need for contacts.
Some DXpedition teams build in various levels of redundancy in their plans to further bolster their pursuit of success. On rare occasions, some DXpedition teams will activate a certain entity mostly paying attention to their “home country” and then they go home barely addressing the needs of others. If such a group has accepted global donations, this kind of practice is highly unethical and should be shunned.
My first ethical quandary came in 2009 when I was fund-raising for our 2010 YI9PSE DXpedition. One of the amateur radio associations offered us a donation with the usual expectations for us to do a good job for their members.
As part of their offer, they asked that we provide them with an electronic copy of our logs and several thousand of our blank QSL cards. They would then provide QSL service to their members. This would create the ability to add or change contacts in the log. Potentially, contacts that were never made could be created and provided to their members. We would have no control or visibility into that.
This request didn’t seem proper and ethical to me and I declined their offer. It seemed so obviously wrong to me almost like it was a “test” of my own ethics.
Communications between the active DXpedition team and their “audience” is best done via HF radio, in the pileups with the intention of making a legitimate contact. We have recently seen a DXpedition where the 160 meter operators were on ON4KST low-band “chat”. The 160 meter operators were communicating in real time with the DXpeditioner and communicating their transmit and receive frequencies to each other. “Good Contact” was often declared over ON4KST chat. While it is not clear if proper contacts were made, prudent DXpeditioners will take steps to avoid the perception of improper or unethical behavior and real time “chat” with the DXpedition operator should not be encouraged.
DXpedition donors have certain expectations of the DXpedition team. There is heightened interest on 160 meters and six meters. If the DXpedition provides details of their plans, these two areas often bring additional support.
“Up front” donations before the DXpedition are very important. This helps the DXpedition organizer budget and know what they can spend before the DXpedition takes place. Many up front donors give freely and generously hoping the DXpedition has good luck and achieves success. Other up front donors have expectations of almost certainty getting into the log.
Then there is the “divine intervention” pleas that we receive. In every single DXpedition that I have organized, I have received various pleas for a contact, when the person pleading to us had no radio or antenna and no hope of making a contact on their own.
Several times, I have received email from a person pleading for our help in placing them in our logs. They claim that a hurricane took down their antenna or that they are living in a senior center without any radio. They plead that they only need one more contact to achieve some award, usually “Honor Roll”.
We always ignore the “divine intervention” pleas that we receive. After the VP8STI/VP8SGI DXpeditions, I received an email from a prominent amateur. He said that he was unable to make a contact with us and he offered to make a donation of $1000 if I would insert some contacts into our logs for him. Of course, this request was rejected.
Adjustments to the DXpedition log are a sensitive subject with certain ethical concerns. Typically, the DXpedition considers the master copy of their log as “sacred” and only the QSL Manager is empowered to investigate and resolve log issues and errors. These “busted call” and logging error investigations are typically done after the DXpedition has concluded.
Recently, we have seen on a major DXpedition where the “back office” team was making daily log changes and corrections in almost real time while the DXpedition was still taking place. This opens up a literal “Pandora’s box” of ethical concerns.
There is some debate currently about the ethics of various teams QSL policies. Some “old school” proponents feel that all DXpeditions must provide some free means of obtaining a QSL card, such as the “bureau card” approach.
As DXpedition leaders try to address ever increasing costs to carry out DXpeditions, they are looking at non typical ways to cover DXpedition costs. Some groups wish to charge a fee for the convenience of OQRS (online QSL Request System) or a OQRS bureau card. Some funding organizations are balking at changes in this area. I feel that it is appropriately ethical to announce your need to recover your costs by asking for a $1.00 for a bureau card or other such convenience.
We have recently seen some DXpeditions use ploys or schemes to raise money for their DXpedition. When DXpeditions use schemes, gimmicks and ploys to bolster their success, I feel that extra scrutiny by the major funding organizations is needed.
Organizing major DXpeditions is fraught with risk. DXpedition organizers need to find new and better ways to obtain funding. Ethics should always be considered when trying various approaches. The DXpedition leader needs to be empowered to do what is needed within ethical boundaries to achieve success. The DX community also needs to examine the various methods used and make note of who follows proper ethical considerations and who does not.