is said these days about the so-called “CNN effect”
– the fact that only when the media are on the spot
does the disaster become a reality for the rest of the world.
We in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement know better.
We work in many places where there is no sign of a journalist
and the disaster is always real. Perhaps these conflicts and
crises are just not sexy enough for the press. Maybe they
are too dangerous to cover. Or maybe they have just been there
for too long to be interesting any more.
Many people in the Movement are not happy about this. They
try to use the media – on their own terms – and
are often disappointed with the results. So, very often we
meet the press with prejudice or even aggression. We feel
that we are the good guys, doing the good deeds, and they
are the bad guys, hoping for as much death and destruction
as possible in order to get the stories that sell...
As a journalist and foreign correspondent for Danish television
before joining the Red Cross, I myself have covered many disasters
– wars, famine, floods, earthquakes – the lot.
And I remember very well the feeling: being there on the spot,
filming the victims, getting what we came for – the
story, the pictures. Then, when the job was done, we’d
pack up our things and go home to our comfortable lives.
It always made me feel better that the Red Cross did not
leave like we newspeople did. At least somebody was staying
to take care of those in need. And I know that most journalists
feel the same way. Journalists have hearts, too.
As a Movement whose work is both vital and relevant in today’s
world, we need to catch up with the times. We must open up
to the media in an honest and cooperative way, respect their
role and their working terms. We should understand that showing
the suffering is another way of helping those who suffer.
And we must realise that we cannot, and should not, define
in what way the stories are told.
Of course there are things that we cannot tell. But there
are a lot of others that we can. We are doing a great job
and it should not be kept secret. We have to accept that journalists
must be critical of us – as they are of anything else.
We must welcome their criticism and educate ourselves and
the public to understand that even the Red Cross is not faultless.
We are sensitive and vulnerable to criticism. But we are even
more vulnerable to silence.