Journalism can be difficult.
Talking to victims without violating their privacy and trivializing their emotions. And learning to deal with traumatic stories. Those were the focal points of a seminar I attended at the Press of Atlantic City. A wonderful concept, thought-provoking and a part of taking care of one’s employees.
Coming from Pakistan, I couldn’t agree more in the seminar's message.
Just recently in my country, a reporter was kidnapped and killed, allegedly for knowing and writing too much. Another was recently kidnapped. Pakistan has in fact been ranked as the most dangerous country for journalists. And though my familiarity with the more dangerous aspects is only as an editor, I can’t say it hasn’t touched me.
In 2009, when the Pakistan Army was still battling the Swat Taliban, the television channel I worked for got its news stories from a courageous reporter whom I spoke with daily for updates. He didn’t always having access to a computer and given the immediacy of the news, we would often get updates over the phone. The dangerous situation in the area also meant that both the Urdu and English news channels of our media group would only get our stories from him. And he gave them even though he was threatened every day. One day, his house was blown up by militants and his sister was killed — all because he was doing his job and telling the truth when everyone else was too scared to.
That’s the price he paid. I don’t know how he dealt with it.
The stories kept on coming and life went on and eventually Swat was freed from the Taliban. But his sister was dead. We never went through a trauma awareness program. Nor were we ever told how to talk to him. The idea in Pakistan is that of large extended families who will always reach out and console you. Perhaps that’s why we take it for granted that people will be taken care of.
But there’s another side of this of which we are aware, of talking to trauma victims, a problem we acknowledge and battle with daily. That of reporting on trauma victims, of talking to mothers who have lost their sons and wives who have lost their husbands. Of taking visuals of children who have been left destitute. There’s a thin line we tread, between reporting about them and garnering support for them, and sensationalizing the news for higher ratings. It’s something we think about every day with every piece of news that can be big, human rights abuses being rampant in Pakistan. Its an ongoing struggle and for their effort I would commend everyone involved. Someday we hope we will get it right.