Search This Blog

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A response to - The Dilemma of Covering Trauma


many thanks for the interesting piece. You raise many important questions about the role of journalists, not just in war zones and conflict, but in life in general.

You may have read my piece earlier in the week asking the question as to whether we can trust our journalists nowadays or not, and I offered some evidence that today’s journalists are not always centered on getting at the truth, more like acting as a mouthpiece for corporations e.g. CNN and the BBC.

I often see an ad on the former, CNN, that always irritates me. It involves the senior reporter, Nick Robertson, saying, ‘As a reporter, I value nothing more than the truth ‘. I am quoting from memory here, but it irritates me because with the world changing as fast as it is, and the corporate world controlling so many news agencies and media outlets in general, truth has become a commodity’ to be bought and sold; it has been hijacked by the business elite to promote their own agenda. Read my post (’Can we trust our journalists? to see what I mean.)

You said, ‘I believe, as a journalist, that I should report the story at nearly any cost and not involve myself in any way. However, others in my class believed that there is a time where you have to throw down your pen and paper and help those in need. It is a very tough topic, especially when you apply them to real life situations.’

Do you remember some of the more famous photojournalism of war? What about the most famous ones like the photo taken by Kevin Carter in 1994? A South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer prize for his haunting photograph of a Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture. That same year, he committed suicide. You can read about it here -

This was immortalised in the Manic Street Preachers song, ‘Kevin Carter’, 1996.

‘Hi Time magazine, hi Pulitzer Prize
Vulture stalked white piped lie forever
Wasted your life in black and white.’

What would you have done in this situation? Would you have helped the girl first and chased off the bird? Or would you have done the same as Nick? It is a difficult question to answer as we all feel that we would have done the right thing in the same situation but know that life is not as simple as that when decisions have to be made quickly in the fast paced world that we live in. I’ll let someone else tell the story of what happened.

‘It didn’t take long for Carter to get the notorious shot for which he is remembered. Landing near the village of Ayod, Carter and Silva began work at an overwhelmed feeding centre. Carter found the scene distressing and took a stroll in the bush to calm his nerves. A soft whimpering sound caught his attention. It was a pitiful, animal-like sound. He moved towards it until he found the source. A young African girl was crawling weakly towards the centre of a clearing. She didn’t have the energy to stand and, emaciated, stood little chance of survival. If the plight of this little girl couldn’t stir the world into action nothing would, as Carter knew instinctively and immediately. He crouched with his camera, ready to frame an eye-level shot.

As he did so, a vulture landed behind her, obviously awaiting the moment of death. He carefully framed the photograph, being careful not to disturb the bird, and clicked. He waited about 20 minutes, waiting for the bird to fly off, and when it didn’t, he chased it away. Carter sat under a tree, watched her struggle for a while, smoked a cigarette and ‘talked to God’. He did not help the girl. Utterly depressed, he went back to Silva and explained what had happened, wiping his eyes and saying ‘I see all this, and all I can think of is Megan. I can’t wait to hug her when I get home. ‘

You can feel the man’s distress in those unforgettable words and it forces you to evaluate your own moral code. The point I’m trying to make is that, in life, we are all faced with stark choices and sometimes we become immune to the constant suffering around us; we become desensitized like the cops that you often see in US drama who are often as bad as the so-called ‘baddies’. If you’ve seen Scorcese’s ‘Bringing out the Dead’ you’ll know what I mean about how urban life drains you of all feeling and compassion. And you are right when you say, ‘I do not know if everyone knows how competitive this field is but it is a dog eat dog field.’ Trust me, most people do know and it guides them to make whatever decisions they do whether good ones or bad.

One last point you make,

‘Without people like me, who are willing to risk their lives and mental health, how would you know what is going on in the world or nation? There needs to be people out there that can report awful situations in order for there to be progress. Our nation needs to know what is going on inside as well as outside of our borders, and if that means certain people have to be a fly on the wall rather than an active member then so be it.’

This raises the question - what is progress? Are we enriched or made better as a race when we report the atrocities of life instead of actively trying to change what’s happening? I guess it’s one of those questions that, at some point in our lives, we’ll have to ask ourselves. I just hope we can come up with an answer we can live with, unlike Kevin Carter.

No comments: