Sunday, 28 October 2012

Reporter or Saviour.

WARNING: This post contains photographs that may upset readers.

It’s no secret that I am a journalism student just one unit away from finishing my degree.
Before I started my degree I wanted to save the world. I wanted to get into war and conflict reporting. I wanted to fix things.

But then I studied journalism.

Among many of the very interesting things I have learnt within my degree, I have learnt that journalists are generally told not to interfere with human lives during war, conflict and famine, we are taught not to help.
Initially I thought this was ridiculous, absurd, inhuman.
How could a journalist be surrounded by death, by famine and murder, and not step in?
How could they care so much that they travel so far and put themselves in danger zones, but then not ‘do anything’?
In fact they do a lot.


Here is an interesting quote South African photographer Kevin Carter.

In 1993 he travelled to Sudan to document the horrific famine.

Whilst there he captured this photo.

A vulture watches a starving child during famine in Sudan, March 1993. By Kevin Carter/Megan Patricia Carter Trust/Sygma/Corbis.
According to Kevin, he heard a whimpering and went to investigate.  He found the young girl, who had collapsed on her way to a feeding centre. He moved closer to photograph her when the vulture landed. At just ten metres away he took the shot. This shot won him the Pulitzer Prize. It also made him the topic of a great debate, an ethical argument that has no really right or wrong outcome.

The main argument was that he should have saved the girl. He certainly could have helped the girl. But he didn’t. He captured the photo and walked away, knowing full well the consequences of leaving her there.

Kevin later said that he wished he had helped the girl, and he regrets leaving her there.

Fifteen months after he shot this photograph he committed suicide.

Kevin was also renowned for taking many photographs that documented the brutality of the social upheaval that was occurring in South Africa at the time. Death was not new to him. 

There was also a fear of catching diseases off the victims and the media were strongly advised not to touch them. 


So, what would you have done?

Me, I would have helped her. I would have missed the shot, I would have run to her and picked her up and told her it was all going to be okay. 

That is why I am not cut out to be a war and conflict reporter. That is why I would never be hired. I would have missed the shot, the conversations about it never would have occurred. Yet another young death would go unnoticed, as well as the thousands that died alongside her.

There are many other stories similar to this. I remember when studying war and conflict as a unit I read a memoir of a war reporter who covered the Cambodian 'War'.

He talked about being told by the BBC to take photos of the town with, ‘less dead bodies’. He talked about how they didn’t run his stories because the photographs were too ‘offensive’. He talked about his regret of not helping.

It is a constant theme. Regret. They want to step in to help, but they didn’t.

Or did they?

Maybe they didn’t run across the field and swoop up the young girl and rescue her on the spot. She was gone; it’s a horrific fact. But many died, many still die and they go unnoticed until people like Kevin bring them to our attention.

The job of a journalist is to report; to save lives by telling those of us at home about the realities of what is happening so that we can force change and action.

It is not to go rescue by physical assistance, but by their words. Kevin may have been persecuted for his photograph. People may have been disgusted in his action.
But they talked about it.
They learnt about it. They saw the state of Sudan and they were brought face to face with the reality, the victims.

So do I think Kevin was wrong, no. Do I think he was right? Well, I think perhaps he could have helped her. I tried to write about how it’s not his responsibility, and if you help one person then when does it stop. But I can’t write that, I don’t believe that.
It's such a fine line. 
He was there to take photos. Not to directly save lives. But he could have saved her.
I don’t, however, think he should have been persecuted. He did more for Sudan than majority of his persecutors did, and in fact they probably wouldn’t have even known about it had he not snapped that shot.

I just want to reconfirm that at the time Journalist were under strict instructions not to help famine victims, primarily due to risk of disease. Kevin was also witness to many horrific crimes in South Africa prior to this photograph.

Although it is not the journalist’s job to help their subjects their are those who do. Here is a really interesting article about Nick Ut, who managed to snap a Pulitzer Prize winning photo, raise awareness about the innocent victims of the Vietnam Way, and save a life.


It’s so easy for us to sit here and judge. My father and I constantly argue about this. He is a firm believer that they should help; I am a firm believer that should help sometimes.

Judge me if you will but here is what I believe. I believe that a war and conflict reporter is there to do just that, report. They should not save a life at the sacrifice of their own safety, or the others around them. In turn, they should not risk or sacrifice anyones safety to get the photo. They should not, say, 'set up' a shot that could win them the Pulitzer Prize which may portray the events that are occurring, but may not have occurred had they not been there. 
BUT I also believe that sometimes they must put the story before a human life. I know, I can't believe I am writing that. Yet that story could save many more lives by telling the public what they know, what they see, and what is happening. The life should not be taken because of the journalist, but I believe that sometimes inaction can lead to the best action.
Ideally, they could do both, as Nick Ut did. But that is not alway possible. 

Some say that they should do what they believe is morally right, and what they can live with. I have found through most of my readings that no matter what actions the media takes they often feel as if they could have done more. They often feel that they let down those they reported on and walk away heavily traumatised by their experiences, many living day by day just waiting to report on the next conflict hoping to do more.

These are my educated opinions on what journalist’s SHOULD do. This is not what I could do.
I could not put a photograph before a life. I could not put words before a life. Especially knowing all that I do about editing and censorship, another story for another day, and that this sacrifice might not even hit the headlines.
But that, my friends, is why I no longer desire to cover war and conflicts. Maybe one day I will be able to, but not in the near future.


To all those who do, I thank you. I thank you for keeping me in the know. I thank you for your lack of ignorance and for ignoring societies ignorance.  I thank you for saving lives with your words, because you do. Even if you save just one, it’s all worth it.

For those who judge, just think seriously about it before you do. If you think that reporters should have saved this life, maybe you should attend that protest. Who knows whose life you might save?

The information on Kevin Carter, and photographs were taken from and remain the property of

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