Truth is a casualty of war, as is racism visited upon victims. Bothered?
I have seen conflict. It’s nothing to revel in. In Ghana in the late 70s, this chilling message (below) from the late Flt Lt JJ Rawlings floated across our airwaves. There would be fighting on the streets, before calm was restored.
All war is madness. Lives, Infrastructure, lives. And when it comes to reporting it, it calls on special skills. My knowing of conflict and war does not place me in a position to understand it at the expense of others who have not, but to see war and see people’s suffering calls on a quality in reporting which is often missed as a human attribute: empathy.
That empathy matched with an integrity can surface when injustices are meted out to people in which you have something in common, Black or white.
George Washington Williams would be the first, if not one of the first, journalists to write about the inhumane acts and injustices Belgium’s King Leopold III was using in the Congo. Williams, also a historian and author was Black. He deeply empathised with the people of Congo.
Many times in reporting, victims are treated as characters to thread together a report? Journalists who have no regard of other’s cultures, who’ve not supped with people from different backgrounds, who have not gone out of their way to understand, now find themselves in a position to report on them.
How can that be?
The earlier sages of journalism implied or directed that a journalist’s culture/ background had little, if any, to do with reporting. Of course this was nonsense. But journalists were mainly homogeneously white and male. Race, that 14th century framing crystallised in the 18th century was unseen amongst them.
As such you’ll be hard pressed to find “race” as an integral framing in journalism studies and practice.
Early war correspondents (19th C) who yearned to be part of the elite travellers club were plucked from a strata of society, for they were thought to know best.
Today, execs will tell you journalism is a meritocracy, but you see it yourself. It would never occur to me that the language used by a stream of journalists is even consciously possible. That language about victims being blond and blue eyed, of being “like us”, betrays a deeply disturbing trait you’d think would never exist amongst journalists working for some of the most credible broadcasters.
Prof. Marcus Ryder MBE from Birmingham University addresses this in his BBC interview.
The lack of empathy first and foremost is a human trait, required but not policed in journalism. There tends to be no consistent testing of reportage through the lens of racial bias, culture and empathy in journalism and courses. When race is discussed it’s often a side issue, a class and that’t it. If you’re one of the those doing it differently and more engagingly I applaud you.
The news agenda is set so the executives’ agency is adhered to. And that often forms a different lens. Diversity isn’t a side show, or an add on. It matters for the stories told and minds that are shaped, for how this construct call news attempts to frame what is important, what isn’t, and what really should be.