Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Meanwhile I am trying to think about morality and disaster reporting. One of the most famous images of famine is one taken by Kevin Carter. In 1993 Carter a member of the so-called Bang Bang Club – a group of white South African photo journalists known for their images of apartheid - went to Sudan to shoot pictures of famine victims who were then dying at the rate of 20 an hour. Seeking relief from the masses, he wandered into the open bush where he saw a small, emaciated girl collapsed from hunger. Then a vulture landed a short distance away. Carter waited 20 minutes hoping the bird would spread its wings and make a better image. It did not and after he snapped several pictures and chased the bird away.

The powerful picture, first used by the New York Times was reproduced around the world. Hundreds of people called the Times to find out what happened to the girl. Carter was praised for capturing the horror of famine and censured for not rescuing the child. Two months after winning a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph, he committed suicide. He had earlier told a friend “I’m really really sorry I didn’t pick the child up”

As Susan D Moeller comments “Being close enough to photograph the starving child meant being close enough to help. The responsibility to bear witness does not automatically outweigh the responsibility to get involved." And Jim Dwyer, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the late New York Newsday says the only ethical justification for a reporter’s intrusion into a victim’s life is that he will help.

But if you take that as a starting point where does that leave objectivity?
And (particularly if you take Amartya Sen's dictum that there's never been a famine in a democracy with a free press) what then happens to reporting?
It's difficult to have a debate like this without even sounding heartless but what is the responsibility of the journalist?

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