When life hangs on the balance and the reporter is the first to arrive (Covering earthquakes and other tragedies)
(continued from yesterday’s post on covering earthquakes and other tragedies. This section explores ethical issues arising when a journalist is confronted with a situation where life hangs on the balance, and the reporter is the first to arrive at the scene even before the police and paramedics could respond)
From: “Tragedies & Journalists” published by the Dart Center, a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, written by Joe Hight and Frank Smyth (Joe Hight is the president of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma’s Executive Committee; led a team of The Oklahoman reporters that covered the 1995 Oklahoma bombing; the coverage won several national awards; Frank Smyth is a free-lance journalist , contributor to “Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know”, edited by Roy Gutman & David Rieff; Washington representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.)
“VII. Journalist as First Responder
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“Ethical issues include the question of whether to provide aid to injured victims or help in the evacuation before emergency responders arrive. Simply doing your job and ignoring the victims’ plight might be considered morally wrong by the public.
“Besides the ethical issue of helping victims, reporters or photographers must consider the dangers of covering violent attacks. First responders should be aware of their safety and surroundings when they first arrive at a scene.
“These risks include whether:
• The perpetrator is still in the area.
• A threat of violence continues or anything dangerous is near.
• An area is still contaminated in the event of a biological accident.
• Terrorists plan for a secondary bomb or attack.
“During an address to UNESCO in Jamaica , Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute, said journalists must be more willing to accept training to protect themselves from both physical and psychological harm.
“ “Many still behave like cowboys, putting themselves and their associates at risk,” he said.
“Supervisors also must face the responsibility of sending reporters and photographers, especially younger and inexperienced ones, into potentially dangerous situations. They should seek ways to protect their journalists and advise them of appropriate precautions.
“Newsday and the Washington Post have bought safety equipment to help safeguard their reporters and photographers who cover dangerous situations, according to a March 2003 story by Newsday’s James T. Madore. Also, several journalists at the “Homeland Terrorism” conference said that they had received special safety training.
“Howard A. Tyner, editorial vice president of Tribune Co. publishing division, told Madore that its newspapers wouldn’t force journalists to cover dangerous events and would advise them of safety precautions. Those newspapers include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsday.
“ “Remember, not only is no story worth a reporter’s life, but a dead reporter isn’t going to report anything,” Tyner said. Finally, and maybe most importantly, journalists and their supervisors must be aware of the psychological effects. Debriefing and even counseling may be necessary to offset the possible emotional damage caused by being a first responder.
“As officer Hagen noted (Los Angeles police officer, participant at the June 2003 conference, “Homeland Terrorism: A Primer for First-responder Journalists”) today’s journalists must realize that being first to a violent or terrorist attack carries significant risk – both physically and psychologically.” (Hight and Smyth, 2003)