100 articles – ‘Reporting Haiti: no sidelines in hell’

21 May 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘Reporting Haiti: no sidelines in hell’, by Craig McMurtrie and Dan Sweetapple

With networks such as CNN being criticised for cynically exploiting the victims of the Haiti earthquake by sending physician-reporters to provide assistance in front of the cameras, there has been some debate regarding the role of journalists  in disaster areas. Unlike in 2003, when he was called upon to operate on a two-year-old Iraqi boy because there were no neurosurgeons present, Dr Sanjay Gupta went to Haiti specifically to combine his roles as doctor and reporter.

As the ABC’s North America correspondent Craig McMurtrie put it, ‘we aren’t supposed to be there as participants, we’re witnesses.’ But when he and cameraman Dan Sweetapple could no longer ignore the screams of agony from one boy, they broke that rule so that they could search for painkillers.

Reading a number of articles on the subject, specifically relating to the ethics of Dr Gupta and fellow physician-reporters from competing networks, I got caught up in analysis of the issue. But the stories told by McMurtrie and Sweetapple in this piece in this January 2010 piece in the ABC site, The Drum took me back to when I first saw images just like the ones they were filming. They provide insight into what goes through a journalist’s mind in the face of such tragedy, and made me imagine how I might react in a similar situation.

As Sweetapple says, ‘You cannot just be a cameraman or a journalist, you must be a person.’

Evan Harding is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University.

For more ‘100 articles’ project, including details of how to submit your own selection, can be found here.