Do Journalists Help?

I've been asked this question by friends, contacts for stories and even by a colleague recently for a work blog.

I reported on child domestic workers yesterday, and one "tutor" was angry, saying I would exploit the children in my report; interesting, since, a 15-year-old girl who works for his family, gets paid just a few meals a day. But an NGO is saving her, and giving her sowing classes. Will my report be a public relations stunt or crude sensationalism? I will try as best I can with my experience and training to put it into context of what it is. Will it help the children, or the NGO? The point, really, is to reflect a certain situation that merits more and more reflection. More macro than micro, really, reflective, and if something happens with reflection, either to the micro or the macro, that is fine, mighty fine...

Can media be evil or embedded, or both in the long term? Of course. It can also be propaganda, by definition, even though that word is often misconstrued. Sometimes do-good NGOs start up community radio stations, and these same radio stations start spewing communal hate speech.

Media also creates envy, adulation, extrapolated fears, ultimately those feelings can lead to despair, and consumeristic/comparitive cravings, pity patter, or a sense of inadequacy, and spins up and around the hypercapitalistic model. Take newspapers in Guinea. Initially, they were all spokespapers either for government or rich opposition politicians, often former paupers, turned rivals.

Independent media is now starting up in Guinea, thanks to competition between cell phone providers, of which there are five, according to the latest count. Because of this competition and a profitable market for the taking, these companies need to advertise. This is the first non-monopolistic, non-overly opaque economic situation in Guinea's history, pretty much. Their advertising in turn is allowing an "independent" media to emerge. Their editorial content is still discrete, not to shock anyone. But it also almost looks like each paper is now just content to enrobe ads for such and such a cellphone provider, for which the advertising pages are much glossier and slick than the newspaper pages.

Anyway, here is what I wrote for the "do journalists help" homework I was given.

I believe a journalist’s first job is to raise the alarm on abuse. Examples of what can be flagged in a report include corruption, security crackdowns, violence against women and minors, victims of oppression.

Another important mission is to report accurately in times of crisis, scandal, upheaval, disaster, election, so that listeners can make informed decisions.

How do journalists help? That is a vast question. Reflecting exception is also part of the equation, and this can inspire. Building awareness among people, across borders and cultures, breaking down misunderstandings, is also crucial.

I prefer not to give anecdotal examples because there are so many. On a micro level, sometimes a listener will be spurred to send money to someone highlighted in a report. Other times a listener will be moved so much that they will act on the emotions that were awakened, sometimes to the point of finding a new mission in their life.

Here is a picture that was not used by my work website. Streetkid Mohamed Camara keeps a box of dates with him, his only possession, in case the begging doesn't work and he gets really hungry. He was sold by his parents to his aunt, who let him run away.

I'm off to Guinea's forest border region with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

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