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Haiti Earthquake Calls Role of Journalists into Question

La Opinin, Editorial, Staff Posted: Jan 22, 2010

Generally, the journalistic code of ethics and the very nature of the work require news professionals to keep events at a certain distance, without participating in them. This is assumed to be the best way to remain unbiased and report objectively, without taking sides.

But there are times that put any ethical concept to the test. The earthquake in Haiti and its aftermath are sparking a broad social debate on the role of journalists in the tragedy: witnesses or participants?

In recent days we have repeatedly seen journalists, primarily those of certain well-known television networks, taking part in the story, participating in rescues, offering treatment to patients and then reporting on the incident.

A journalist is first and foremost a human being; a physician-journalist is a doctor first, as CNNs Sanjay Gupta noted after his network aired a four-minute segment in which the neurologist and commentator treated 15-day-old infant for a head injury. The problem that some experts in journalism have pointed out is that this, when it becomes commonplace, seems not only to contradict the journalists task of independent observation, but also becomes a marketing weapon.

Time and again, many mainstream media have cast their reporters as the center of the news, rescuing a child in the midst of a fight, treating the sick. It is commendable that these journalists follow their instincts as human beings first, but there has to be a limit on the way these "heroic" acts are promoted in the same media that employs them.

There is no doubt that now in Haiti, there are many stories to tell, including those of other also heoric rescuers, doctors, and volunteers who are not accompanied by a cameraman and are doing their best to help the Haitian people. It is a complex issue, and the media should address it responsibly.

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