Well, the shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist has certainly sparked a lot of interest worldwide. Opinion is divided about whether or not his actions are legitimate, or beyond the journalist’s ethical pale.
In this weekend’s Sunday Star Times, columnist Rosemary McLeod says that 29 year-old reporter, Muntadar al-Zeidi, is her “man of the year”.
That might be a step too far for some, but Rosemary’s column lays out some interesting 21st century ethical principles and acknowledges that reporters do have opinions and also a right to express them.
In her 28 December column, Rosemary wrote:
I applaud him for crossing the sacred line in reporting and becoming a protagonist instead of a witness. Journalists don’t often allow ourselves that pleasure, though you can bet we’ve all wanted to at some point. He acted. Good for him. The situation is extreme enough in Iraq to justify extreme protest.
[Rosemary McLeod – Sold on defiance]
Here’s a quick distillation of Rosemary’s principles (of course, filtered through my own ethical lenses):
- It’s OK for journalists to believe that they can “change things” through their reporting and their actions
- Don’t let cynicism and world-weary indifference overcome your enthusiasm and passion
- All journalists have personal opinions. Those who say they don’t are liars. [direct quote]
- It’s OK for reporters to hold and express opinions as long as they also take heed of counter-views and achieve some balance in their journalistic account
- Journalists [like] everyone should be angered by injustice, and disgusted by people who abuse power and wealth; by those who steal from the poor; by terrorism; by unnecessary human suffering; by those who instigate war. [direct quote]
- [Reporters] should side with whomever seeks justice and hunt out truth, wherever it’s concealed. And if that doesn’t sit comfortably, if it’s too hard or too serious, they should retreat to public relations, where hacks are rewarded handsomely for a lack of active conscience. [direct quote]
This short list is not conclusive or definitive, but it is refreshing to see a senior columnist with a national Sunday newspaper coming out from behind the fog of objectivity.
Of course, Rosemary’s comments won’t please everyone, but I’m always keen to promote some open and useful debate in the area of media ethics.
Regular readers of Ethical Martini will know that some of this ground has been covered before, but it doesn’t hurt to get it back on the front page from time to time.
Meanwhile, back in Iraq, al-Zeidi is still in detention and it’s been reported that he’s been tortured, or at least badly beaten. He should be released immediately, not held on bogus charges that could mean up to 15 years in jail. [Reporters without Borders case file]
This could well be my last post for 2008, so “Happy New Year”. I’m back in New Zealand now, gearing up for a new term, new challenges and some summer reading.