If you feel a news story does not measure up to expected journalistic standards, bring it to the Journalism Dry Cleaner. Through our collective wisdom, we will strip it of all offensive dirt.




Friday, 19 March 2010


Journalists often go to great lengths to get an exclusive story or scoop. The pursuit of big stories at times puts them in grave danger. But it should not always be about their own safety. News contacts too need to be reassured that no harm will come their way.

It is rather unfair for a reporter to only concentrate on getting a story without a thought of the possible risk they could be putting the news sources in, by putting the story out.

A BBC report of a missing Chinese lawyer for example, scored highly in tracing a relative of Gao Zhisheng. But very poorly in leaving the brother quite vulnerable after securing his interview.

The BBC team managed to trace Ghao Zhiyi deep into Central China. Despite obviously being aware of the strict Communist regime, the subsequent story did not make any attempt to conceal the identity of the brother to the fiery critic of the Chinese government.

If the Chinese authorities take offence with regard to this story, which was aired in the UK and is still posted on BBC's website, they might easily direct their anger at the poor brother to the missing lawyer.

Once when I attended a media workshop organized by CNN in Cape Town, South Africa, I remember how speaker after speaker took a swipe at the repressive regime of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

Then a Zimbabwean photojournalist took the microphone and asked the participants to tone down their anti-Mugabe sentiments. The auditorium was soon after inundated with shouts of 'why...why...why?'

The young man's disarming argument was very simple. The more the international media criticised Mugabe, the more the local Zimbabweans' lives were made more miserable.

This might seem like an extreme example but it does make you think about how easy it is to mistakenly assume that the pursuit of stories ought to be the ultimate objective for a journalist.

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