Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Welcome to ethical turmoil... I hope this makes sense.

Empathy and objectivity-- two principles that constantly contradict one another. Yet, journalists are expected to embody both elements in their practices. Is it possible? Gah. Ethics make me shudder sometimes. It is a balance that causes strife in my mind and tells me I could never be a hard-news reporter. I am too emotionally involved with people. Though I am fascinated by people and would want to "give voice to the voiceless," it would be extremely challenging, to say the least, to not help someone in a dire situation-- like the real-life circumstances presented in Welcome to Sarajevo.

Though I know it's expected and kind of cliche to root for the protagonist of a film, I didn't care about this when I rooted for Michael Henderson. Because he's a real person. He was a real-life protagonist. First of all, I more than admire any journalist who takes on the role of a war correspondent and becomes an embedded journalist. "Courageous" seems an inadequate word. Henderson and the journalists were not just reporting-- they were experiencing the siege of Sarajevo. Though they were expected to be objective as journalists always are (or should be), their situation presented a tremendous challenge to this journalistic ideal. While his fellow reporters remained more objective and seemingly less empathetic, Henderson struggled immensely with the balance of empathy and objectivity. In the end, empathy won.

Is this OK, we ask ourselves. Is it OK that Henderson's news broadcasts were biased toward the plight of the Sarajevan people? He was a reporter and was supposed to report simply the facts. Then again, he was not a heartless robot. He was simply a human with empathy. How far removed would a reporter have to be to walk down a blood-stained street where innocent people have been killed left and right and still remain objective? Is there a place where we can draw some kind of mythical line-- a place where empathy can rule out objectivity? Henderson was criticized for his empathetic actions, but really, in that dire situation, is it really worth it to be objective and "neutral?" Sarajevo was under siege. That's what the public really needed to know. When people were being brutally killed, was objectivity the most important thing?

I'm not trying to deny the importance of objectivity-- not at all. Just like anyone else, I am a skeptic, I believe in honest, balanced reporting, and I despise slanted, money-driven news. But when it comes to a human life, when it comes to the plight of the innocent in a deathly situation, things change. Though I can't say where to draw this elusive "line," I know that we are simply human. And really, we are all just trying to make sense of the world together.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you and this is one reason I hate ethics. It is such a fine line and if you cross it either way you get hit by both sides saying you did something wrong. I like to believe I would have acted in the same way, but sometimes I think we have too many rules as citizens and people that we aren't free to make those ethical decisions because we are too scared of what is going to happen to us if we break a rule. I admire Henderson for putting all rules aside and reporting what was really going on. He is a hero of that war because he broke the rules and went with what his gut said.