Don't cause more damage

By Xiong Lei
0 CommentsPrintE-mail, May 23, 2008
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Reporting scoops is not about displaying images of traumatized survivors without regard for their dignity. I am talking especially about the injured, who are dazed and in no fit state to respond to questions.

I've kept my thoughts to myself for a while but now I have to speak out.

I keep seeing the same child on television, the one with the injured face, the one that Premier Wen Jiabao comforted.

The child is clearly unwilling to talk, but the media persists in pursuing her.

I have kept my opinions quiet until now out of consideration for the journalists working in dangerous conditions at the front line.

I respect the journalists because they send us news from disaster areas, risking danger from aftershocks, and putting up with hard living conditions.

Journalists have reported the latest news, collected stories from every disaster area and provided in-depth analysis. Their professional dedication has won people's respect.

But there are problems, especially when interviewing victims. For example, the interview with the above mentioned child may cause her further psychological damage.

So I have decided to speak out.

I see the same scene again and again on television: a survivor is carried out from debris, surrounded by journalists taking flash photos.

Then microphones are thrust in their faces, asking them how they feel right now.

Some survivors are naked when they are pulled out. .

If they were thinking clearly, would they allow journalists to film them naked?

Obviously not.

I can just imagine how journalists would answer their own questions if they were the ones have microphones stuck in the face after being buried under debris for a week.

Such behavior is especially damaging to children who are survived. They are still in shock, having lost their families or having no news of them. They can't speak because they have not recovered from the fear of death.

But, journalists insist the children say something; they even ask them to recall horrifying memories. This is a sure way to inflict further damage on them.

People suffering from trauma need to talk, but it should happen in a context supervised by psychological experts. Journalists have no knowledge of psychology; they just fire dozens of questions at victims and make them feel worse.

We all want to hear news from the disaster scene, and journalists have to work against the clock. But not if it means harassing the public, regardless of their dignity, especially the injured, who are often so dazed they have no idea what is happening.

Even in emergency situations, we should remember journalists' professional ethnics. Journalists should not film victims, especially the injured, without their permission. Questions that may compound their grief should not be asked – at least not now.

Why not report on the relief work and its problems. Readers and audiences want to know about survivors' living conditions and disease prevention projects, as well as the feelings of the injured.

We should pay more attention to these emerging issues and problems, and turn our attention away from survivor stories. I appeal to journalists; please, do not do any more damage to the victims.

Xiong Lei profile: Xiong Lei was formerly a senior editor and vice director of China Features in the overseas department of Xinhua News Agency. She completed her Master's in Journalism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1981. She visited the United States as a Jefferson Scholar at the East-West Center, Hawaii in 1988. She has been reporting news about China to foreign audiences for many years. Her features and in-depth-reports on politics, science, culture and society have been published in more than 10 countries, including the USA, UK, France, India, Singapore and Korea.

This blog was first published in Chinese on May 21, 2008 and translated by Wu Huanshu


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