Do Journalism Ethics exist in times of crisis?

The Brussels Attacks

A little under a month ago, the Western world stood still as three coordinated terrorist attackswere carried out by Islamic state in Brussels, Belgium.

Two of the attacks occurred at the Brussels Airport in Zaventam and one at the Maalbeek metro station, leaving as many as 32 innocent victims dead.

In the hours following the attacks, the world’s media was plastered with gut-wrenching images of some of the victims and in particular the iconic picture of that ‘woman in the yellow jacket’.

'The woman in the yellow jacket'. Photo: Ketevan Karadava

The photojournalist behind “that image”

36-year old Ketevan Karadava, special correspondent for a Georgian Public Broadcaster who was on assignment at the Brussels airport when the first blast happened.

“What do you do in this situation if you’re a journalist? Help? Ask a Doctor to come? Or take a photo? In that very moment, I realized that to show the world what was happening in this moment of terror, a photo was more important,” said Karadava.

In an eyewitness account to The Blaze, one witness described the situation as horror.

“I saw at least seven people dead. There was blood. People had lost legs. You could see their bodies but no legs,” he said.

In times of crisis, what does a journalist do?

When a journalists job is to show the world what is happening, do they continue to do this or do they follow their instincts and help those in need?

This question is one which may never be answered, as it comes back to a journalist’s own ethics and thus their ability to handle the crisis at hand.

The Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma suggests when working with a photograph which depicts something horrific or gruesome, no matter how compelling its news value may be, it needs to be handled with care.

Journalists in particular must take care, as while they may be resilient “secondary or vicarious traumatisation” as the Dart Centre refers to it as, is a very real thing and causes a journalist to overtime become very distressed following a crisis that they experience first hand.

This secondary traumatisation is so real that the American Psychiatric Association amended its guidelines on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to include “immersive work with traumatic imagery”.

Karadava referred to her decision to take that photo of the woman in the yellow jacket as, “instinct”.

“I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how I took that photo. As a journalist, it was my instinct. I posted it on Facebook and wrote ‘Explosion … Help us,” she said.

“I’ve lived here for 8 years and I’ve covered a lot of things, even the Paris terror attacks. But now I know.  It can be anywhere, any time. Now I realise the meaning of the phrase ‘terrorism has no boundaries’.”

After this terrifying situation Karadava told the USA Today that she doesn’t know whether she will continue with her career as a photojournalist.

Whether Karadava’s decision to take the photo of the victims was right or wrong, ethical or not, if anything at all it allowed the entire world to feel the severity of the Terrorism crisis that it is currently facing.

The Ethical Journalism Network states that there is no time more important for ethical journalism to prevail than within times of crisis.

Following the 9/11 terrorism attacks to New York and Washington, US media focussed on reporting the story on the victims rather than hard hitting analysis on foreign policy and other such areas that were news worthy enough to be analysed.

Knowing what to do in a time of crisis is something not taught to journalism students at University, yet so many have to face this ethical dilemma in their practice.

The question as to whether or not journalism ethics exist in times of crisis is one that may never be answered.


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