More than ever before, the news media and humanitarian aid organizations have a symbiotic relationship. Journalists depend upon aid workers for information about war-ravaged areas and workers depend upon reporters to raise awareness about the plight of suffering people. However, for non-governmental organizations this new relationship is often difficult to manage. That’s why Fordham’s International Institute for Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA), which co-hosted the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) program in June, invited members of the media to share their experiences and insights with students. “We know the media is playing an increasing role in the public awareness of human emergencies and can play an important role in raising awareness, raising funds and correcting the practices of [abusive]states,” said Michel Veuthey, academic director for the Center for International Health and Cooperation (CIHC) and an adjunct professor in Fordham’s School of Law. “We want the IIHA participants to be aware of this.”
The IIHA media day kicked off with the presentation of War Photographer: Jim Nachtwey, a film that chronicles the news photographer’s work on pictures of poverty, war and famine in Africa, Palestine, Indonesia and Bosnia, among other places. Following the film, Rick Davis, a retired NBC chief correspondent; Robert Nickelsburg, a Time magazine photographer; and Amanda Williamson, a former journalist who now works for the International Committee for the Red Cross, shared their war coverage experiences. Williamson, who conducts media training for aid workers, said that workers often block reporters from getting stories to protect the victims they are serving. While it’s understandable, she said, workers may be missing a valuable opportunity for war victims to share their stories. “We feel like we have a monopoly on empathy, as if we don’t share the same values as [reporters],” she said. “We are all different, but we are working toward the same end.”
However, reporters’ intentions are not always genuine, some IIHA participants said, using recent events in Afghanistan as an example. Some aid workers in the class were critical of media that swarmed Afghanistan last fall, saying that reporters were able to pay more for the best drivers and translators to get their reporting done. Meanwhile, aid workers trying to provide food and medical treatment had a harder time finding people to assist them. One aid worker suggested that journalists develop a code of conduct to guide them through ethical dilemmas. While the journalists did not dismiss the idea, they acknowledged the difficulties of such an undertaking. “That would be like herding cats,” Davis said. “There would be no consensus.”
All three panelists also pointed out that reporters receive extensive ethical training in journalism school. The few “bad seeds” give the rest a bad name, Nickelsburg said. “If you have 500 journalists in one place, or bankers or engineers for that matter, there are going to be people who break the rules,” he said. “There are standards that [journalists]have to adhere to and most try to stick to them.” Aside from these hefty issues, IIHA participants also asked questions about photo selection, correcting misinformation in the media and the story assignment process. “The participants understand better now how to handle working with the media,” Veuthey said. “When [aid workers]feel that you have real empathy for the predicament, then they are willing or even eager to share what they can with you.” The IIHA was created at Fordham in December 2001 to forge partnerships with relief organizations, publish books and host symposia related to humanitarian aid issues.