[Following the publication of John Izzard’s “Blood News” Sally Sara of the ABC responded, “Not happy, John”. This is John Izzard’s reply, to which Sally Sara replied, "Doing our job".]
Ouch! Sorry Sally if I hit a nerve, but I stand by every word I wrote in Blood News. Others refer to the exploitation of the wretched, for Western TV audiences, as “disaster-porn” or “poverty-porn”. A less provocative description of this type of TV reporting might be “conspicuous compassion”. Back in the 1990s Rakiya Omaar and Alex De Waal (author of Famine Crimes) wrote:
Somali doctors and nurses have expressed shock at the conduct of film crews in hospitals. They rush through crowded corridors, leaping over stretchers, dashing to film the agony before it passes. They hold bedside vigils to record the moment of death.
More recently, this year in fact, William Easterly of Aid Watch, a project of New York University’s Development Research Institute wrote “The aid groups Save the Children and Medaid have canvassed the Akobo community [Sudan] over the last week, searching for the hungriest children.” While Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic, wrote:
The most respectable excuse for selectively presenting images of starvation is that this is necessary to elicit our charity.
I’m not aware of charity work in third-world countries being part of the ABC’s Charter, nor indeed part of the job description of the ABC’s foreign correspondents. While the ABC should be congratulated for raising $3.5 million for Pakistan Flood Relief, is the running of Blood News type stories appropriate during the 7 o’clock TV news or current affairs programs — particularly if they are apparently aid-promos dressed up as news?
Agenda-driven reporting, which targets our emotions rather than our intellect, be it for aid/charity, promoting global warming, supporting illegal immigration, spreading anti-US phobias, down-playing the Islamist threat from terrorism or environmental fear-mongering, as regularly seen on the ABC, often crosses the line that separates genuine news from propaganda.
My criticism wasn’t so much that Sally Sara didn’t cover the magnitude of the floods, but rather that she managed to “winkle out some poor sodding family or child to expose on ABC News”. Was this really necessary?
Sally Sara says “Ethical journalism includes giving a voice to people affected by catastrophes”. Giving them a “voice” yes — exploiting their wretchedness, and denying them some dignity as human beings? No!