Journalism – the dangerous business

April 22, 2009

I wrote recently about the moral purpose of journalism, in part I noted:

The bottom line is that, consciously or unconsciously, reporters and editors often concede their independence to political actors. Equally, states often go to extreme lengths to coerce or cajole the news media into toeing the line

There’s another deep philosophical argument: Is the conscience of the journalist easily equated with the broader public conscience?

In this context, one of journalism’s most important roles is that of awakening the public’s conscience. Journalists must decide when the alarm must be sounded and how best to do so.

(The Global Journalist, p.4)

I am still thinking about these issues, they’re not yet fully resolved in my own head, but I think it’s a debate that anyone with an interest in honest, truthful and insightful news media should engage in.

However, it’s never too late to sound the alarm: journalism is a dangerous business for courageous reporters who threaten powerful political and economic interests.

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Fiji situation – support for journalists under the gun

April 16, 2009

this statement released this week by the Journalism Education Association in Australia

Soldiers and police have no place in any newsroom.

We oppose the Fiji dictatorship’s attempts to control our colleagues by threats, intimidation and censorship. We call on our governments to seek to protect all Fiji journalists striving to perform their duties in these difficult circumstances.

As journalists and educators we affirm Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

We strongly support our esteemed Australian colleague, Sean Dorney and other foreign journalists who have been expelled from Fiji because they sought the truth in the public interest.

For more Information contact : Professor Alan Knight 0448194512 email: ad.knight@qut.edu.au

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) has also issued a strong statement and has several updates on the situation in Fiji.

Reporters without  borders (RSF) has also got extensive coverage.

David Robie’s Cafe Pacific blog is a good source on this story.

Pacific Media Centre at AUT University

Fiji Free Speech is covering Coup V.5


Gaza appeal creates row in UK media

January 27, 2009

The refusal of the BBC and Sky TV to broadcast a charity appeal for victims of  Israeli ground and air attacks in Gaza earlier this month (Jan 2009), is causing outrage in Britain.

Church leaders and MPs have joined in calls for the BBC and Sky TV to join Channels Four and Five in broadcasting the appeal video, produced by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

The whole fracas raises some very interesting questions about the line between news and advertorial and the editorial independence of news organisations reporting on the controversial conflict between Israel and the Hamas organisation, which controls Gaza and has been firing Qassam rockets into Israeli settlements.

The video is available on the Guardian’s website.

The BBC’s Director-General, wearing his “editor-in-chief” hat, argues that broadcasting the appeal would compromise the organisation’s impartiality in the coverage of an ongoing news story. This seems, at face value to be a persuasive argument.

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Israel responds to media “Please explain”

January 15, 2009

ifj-slogalIn times of war, the line between winning and losing can come down to the public relations battle as much as the military offensive itself.  (CNN 14 January)

The Israeli miitary machine is coming under increased pressure from news organisations to expain its reasons for limiting reporters’ access to Gaza.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres) reports that more than 100 media organisations have signed its petition urging the Israeli government to lift the ban, which has been in place since November.

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The moral purpose of journalism

January 14, 2009

“We always end up starting with the Israeli side,” said a Japanese television journalist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, “because that’s where we are and that’s what we can see.”

(Christian Science Monitor, 10 January 2009)

The job of the news media is not to try to solve all the world’s problems, but to shake awake the world’s conscience. Good journalism can do that.

(Philip Seib, The Global Journalist, 2002, p.xiv)

I’ve been deliberately staying away from posting my thoughts on the coverage of the present conflict in Gaza; mainly because when I try to watch it on TV I get enormously angry and depressed. I’m also reluctant to say too much because there’s nothing more likely to stir passionate outrage among the dribblejaws than yet another anti-Israel rant.

But I’m now going to dip a toe in these troubled waters. My inspiration to do so comes from a number of sources:

  • The heroic act of shoe-throwing that I’ve covered in a number of posts. I’ve made it clear that I support the actions of the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi. When he threw his shoes at George W Bush it was a symbolic act of disgust and outrage that had, apparently, been simmering in Muntadhar’s head for some time. It was, in my view, the act of a morally-upstanding person. From the positive reactions globally, it seems that many people agree that Bush deserved it.
  • I’m currently reading Philip Seib’s The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict, and the book begins with an interesting, though flawed, thesis on the moral responsibilities that journalists carry around in their ethical kitbags.
  • Finally, I think it’s important to defend a political critique of Zionism from accusations of racism and anti-Jewish “hate speech”.

Before you read any further, you need to know that I am a strong supporter of the Palestinians who thinks the state of Israel is an imperialist construct and an outpost of American projected military power in the Middle East. I’ve come to the conclusion that journalists have a moral responsibility to say as much and to predicate all their reporting of the current Gaza conflict, as well as coverage of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and the associated “terror frame” of news analysis on this controversial starting point.

In other words, I believe in what Martin Bell calls the “journalism of attachment”, rather than feeble attempts at objectivity, which is, in and of itself, a form of inbuilt and largely unconscious bias.

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I agree with Rosemary

December 28, 2008

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.

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Robert Capa’s Falling soldier – does the evidence stack up?

November 1, 2008
Sonw in London - October 2008

Update 19 July 2009: Fresh argument erupts

[Traveller’s tip: Don’t miss: This is war! at the Barbican till 25 January 2009]

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a ‘private viewing’ of the Robert Capa and Gerda Taro exhibition at the Barbican this week. Helen and I got doused by a storm walking from Moorgate, but once we were inside, the magic of the Barbican Centre took over. We spent the next 90 minutes immersed in some great war reportage and an installation of contemporary photojournalistic and new media commentaries on Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the way home I was caught in that wonderful (for an expat of 40 years) October snow. It was bitterly cold, but the chance to take this photo made it all worthwhile. The white blobs in the foreground are snowflakes.

Robert Capa and Gerda Taro were an amazing couple as well as great photographers. This retrospective provides hundreds of images showing how they worked together or alone and using a variety of cameras and techniques.

Many of the images in this collection are clearly staged and posed: including many famous images by both Capa and Taro from the Spanish civil war.

They first went to Spain in 1936 and their sympathies were with the Republicans (also known as Loyalists) who were defending their newly established (and left-leaning) government from the Fascist militias led by General Franco.

I don’t doubt Taro and Capa’s political allegiance to the Republicans. That was always the right side of the barricades and many fine socialists, intellectuals, poet, anarchists, workers, women and children died defending and extending working class political rights against the rising tide of European fascism.

But did this ideological sympathy for revolution in Spain create ethical problems for either Capa or Taro? One famous series of images by Robert Capa sheds some interesting light on this debate.

Known universally as ‘the falling soldier’, one iconic image is at the centre of a longstanding question hanging over Robert Capa’s reputation as one of the finest photojournalists of the 20th Century.

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Burma and the shock doctrine

May 15, 2008

When the devastating cyclone hit Burma couple of weeks ago I pondered a blog post on the Shock Doctrine. I read Naomi Klein’s great book a few months ago and as soon as it was clear how devastated parts of Burma were, I thought: “this is a time for a shock doctrine intervention”. Well f*c( me with a spade, so it’s come to pass.

I first heard talk of a western military intervention this morning (15 May), so it’s time to join the blog chat on this topic. I found this interesting case for intervention on Slate, dated 12 May. Read the rest of this entry »


Citizen Journalism at War

January 6, 2008

Citizen Journalism at War
Video sent by 18doughtystreet

Broadcast Journalist David Heathfield’s report investigating the impact of citizen journalism on war.