How journalists can maintain balanced reporting and still help
The April 6 article, "Western reporters in Africa struggle over when to help," left out some critical information regarding the controversy over Kevin Carter, the reporter who took the infamous image of the vulture and the emaciated child. What wasn't mentioned was that Carter did indeed chase the vulture away after shooting the image. In addition, journalists at that time were advised not to engage in any physical contact with famine victims for fear of disease.
The omission of these details made Carter appear to have abandoned the child to be consumed by the vulture after he took his photograph, and that he did so in the interest of being a dispassionate observer, rather than for the protection of his own health and safety.
Whether Carter's action - or inaction - was morally justified is something that should be the subject of reflection and debate. However, I hope the Monitor and its reporters will take greater care in providing complete context to events they report, so that readers can make a fair judgement regarding the ethical questions journalists face in these very difficult situations.
I was in southern Sudan in January 2003 writing about the long-standing civil war. Though most of the children were in tattered clothes and ate only one meal a day, if that, none of them asked me for money or food. Near the end of my stay, I was approached by a 10-year-old boy whom I had seen wearing the same fleece jacket everyday, despite the intense heat. Embarrassed but desperate, he asked if I had an extra T-shirt to spare.
The truth is, I would have given every last bit of clothing in my backpack, but I knew that would only perpetuate the dependency that the war had thrust onto the southern Sudanese. I agreed, with one condition: He needed to bring me a walking stick. His face lit up at the proposition. The next day he stood proud and smiling at the entrance to my tukul with a mahogany walking stick. With dismay, I handed over my favorite Gap T-shirt knowing he would need a lot more than a piece of cotton to keep him safe.
Notwithstanding the great value to society of news reporting, it seems journalists have an overinflated sense of the precision and sensitivity of their work. Reporting on tragic social conditions does not require the kind of rarefied detachment appropriate for, say, interviewing a finance minister. To use journalistic ethics as a reason to remain aloof from human suffering right in front of one's face is unforgivable. What about human ethics? Journalists should get off their high horse and act like people.
Regarding the March 30 article, "Audiences in Seoul face the music about North Korea": This play is causing South Koreans to think about North Korea as the harsh place it is. As a foreigner in Korea who wants to see genuine reconciliation between the North and South, the play brings everyone to the point of seeing what is involved and seeing the challenge offered to all to speak out for human rights.
The truth is sometimes difficult to face, and the courage to speak out about human rights is the cornerstone of reality when talking about reconciliation here. It took courage to write and show the production; those involved in it are to be commended for their openness when some tried to stifle the play's showing.
Goyang City, South Korea
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