Reporting on Haiti

It’s hard to write about an tragedy on the scale of the earthquake in Haiti without descending into cliché or trivialising it in some way. I’ve been resisting adding my two tiny cents to the wealth of blogposts etc. out there on the subject, prefering instead to read what others have to say, especially Bishop Nick (Haiti, hate and God), and Rev Ruth (Thoughts on Haiti…).

In particular, the point raised by Ruth (and reiterated by many others) is to my mind very important. Every major news agency seems to have several reporters, camera operators etc. in and around Port-au-Prince. Presumably these people were on some of the first flights in to Haiti and, while they are there, they are sleeping, eating and travelling in relative comfort. Others have commented on the use (?waste) of resources and whether there is really a need for each news agency to send one or more reporters into a situation like this one.

Additionally, I have often wondered about the effect of such an experience on those filming and reporting on it. Putting aside for a moment the issue of whether they need to be there in the first place, spending days on end filming the starving, the dead and the dying would affect anybody. Aid workers and soldiers are spending their days rescuing, treating and feeding people affected, whereas I have seen film over the last few days of people begging and pleading for help, directly into the camera. Now nobody expects those filming to be able to help, or even necessarily to intervene. There are rules and guidelines which they must follow. But what interests me is how those journalists live with what they have seen, when they are unable to help and must remain one step removed from the situation.

I am not suggesting that events such as the earthquake should not be reported, news stories raise awareness of what is or is not being done for those affected, and what people can do to help. I have no doubt that this is an important task, but put yourself in the shoes of a charity representative, interviewed in turn by the BBC, ITN and Channel 4. Would you not question the need to repeat yourself to three journalists from the same small country? Now imagine you are the third British journalist to interview that person. What can you add to the story that two others can not? How then do you justify your presence?

Perhaps all of this is more a reflection on how useless I feel when I read and watch the news after a disaster such as this one. I wonder how those who are there cope, when I can hardly bear to watch it on a screen. All I can do is watch, pray, and donate whatever I can afford. It never feels like enough.

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