06 May 2008

(Ir)responsibilty in the fourth estate

Another touch of synchronicity, this morning, between that part of Thinking Through My Fingers' post which deals with journalistic ethics and my own thinking over night.

There is a humanitarian disaster in Myanmar (aka Burma). The officially estimated death toll rose over a few hours from 350 to ten thousand, and the figure on offer this morning is fifteen thousand - it will probably rise further.

In the face of this, the normally rejectionist military régime in Myanmar has shown signs of considering unusual levels of international access for aid purposes.

Last night, more than one news organisation trumpeted their success in getting undercover reporters into forbidden areas. In normal times, I would applaud this refusal to accept censorship... but at a time when it could compromise the attitude of the régime to outsiders and, therefore, lives of thousands, I find myself uncertain.

I feel more than just uncertainty over a similar situation in Zimbabwe, since the election there. The BBC put in an illegal roving reportage team (the BBC is banned from operating inside Zimbabwe) and I cheered. The team are taking risks, but that is their own decision to make. They are not, by virtue of being there, exposing others to risk; in fact, the light of publicity may conceivably help.

Then a rival British news organisation followed suit. Fair enough, the more the merrier. But then the rival team started sending out material which included conversations with recognisable individuals. Those individuals will still be there, vulnerable to violence, when the reporter and camera have moved on ... and that is sheer immoral irresponsibility. At that point, I was no longer cheering; I was disgusted.

No comments: