Thursday, April 06, 2006

Western reporters in Africa struggle over when to help |

Western reporters in Africa struggle over when to help | "JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – It was three school-age siblings, orphaned by AIDS and fending for themselves in rural Swaziland, who were the last straws. They finally made Canadian reporter Stephanie Nolen question the age-old journalistic principle of not giving help to people she encounters while reporting.

Every morning these kids, whom Ms. Nolen met last year, would put on their school uniforms and stand outside their home, watching other children go to school. They couldn't follow because they didn't have money for school fees."

Years of seeing such situations finally got to Nolen. During a "somewhat sleepless night," she argued with herself: "I can't do this, it's a slippery slope." But in the morning she made a beeline for an ATM and withdrew $150, enough for all three to go to school for a year.

Daily journalism involves many dilemmas. But Western reporters covering developing countries often face unique conundrums: A little humanity - just the change in their pockets - can sometimes feed 10 or 20 people. Such giving can violate a basic tenet of journalism: Observe, don't engage. It's a cornerstone of the effort to stay objective. But Western reporters often ask themselves: Should I help anyway?

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