Actually, Nick Kristof, this is a damn good point.

One more thing on this “Nick Kristof named a 9-year-old rape victim!” controversy.  In my, “Thanks for your time in the middle of Congo, Nick Kristof” email, I mentioned I’d face a similar, though totally unscrutinized, decision in Liberia last year.  He replied that he had too — and he’d not used a girl’s name, and obscured her face in video, because in urban Monrovia, it was much more likely that she could be identified.

“That protected her, but it also meant the column and video had less of an impact,” he wrote in an email.

That fascinates me.  Obviously I love you all, fair readers, but if we were to march into Braveheart-style battle against Nick Kristof’s readers, you would be so outnumbered that no one might notice we showed up on the field.  But Kristof is a guy with a platform big enough to notice that choice.

Which means it is a real choice.  You trade some kind of impact for anonymity.  I’m a disconnected journalist — a self-employed freelancer whose work runs months after she files it; unless I get a Google alert for myself, sometimes I forget there’s a new piece of mine out there.  Even if the only person reading a story is my mom, I take the responsibility of that choice seriously.  But to me it more often feels like another case study in ethics than a measurable decision.  But having plowed through the comments on Kristof’s blog on several occasions, it’s obvious Kristof is a guy who can measure that decision.

So, readers, here’s the scenario:  You know that anonymizing the 9-year-old means your column has less impact.  You know no one in her village is probably ever going to see it.  Do you use her name?  Why or why not?

(This post is the second of what turned out to be two posts on my email exchange with Kristof.  The first is here.)


  • Eamon says:

    Thanks for your excellent, nuanced coverage of this issue, Jina. It’s a refreshing, measured addition to the discussion.

    What I take issue with is writers using completely different standards when reporting on foreign stories than when reporting on domestic ones — and not necessarily because the context of their reporting warrants it, but because they are not accountable to the subjects of their stories. Reporting on foreign subjects, especially in poor countries, puts journalists in a position of huge power. Thus, it’s all the more important that they are a slave to standards.

    No matter how vulnerable or powerless a subject in the United States, a reporter at a respectable publication would not dream of revealing the identity of a minor victim of sexual assault without long consultation with senior editors. This is not because reporters on American issues are more responsible, but because they would catch hell for doing a sloppy job of ensuring consent or the value of revealing identity in a delicate situation.

    But when we report on Africa, our American audience does not have the knowledge of our subjects — or have the stake in subjects’ communities — that would make them really vigilant readers of the news. We can get away with a lot of things reporting on Congolese war that we’d never be able to do reporting on the Sacramento school board.

    This is sort of an economic fact of information consumption that is difficult to remedy, and I’m not trying to blame reporters, readers or editors for its existence. However, what this built-in lack of accountability should tell us as journalists is that we must be hyper-sensitive to issues of ethics, consent and accuracy when reporting foreign stories. Our audience — our constituency — will not necessarily keep us in check, so we need to work extra hard to watch our own behavior.

    So, while I appreciate the difficulty of the situation, I’m dismayed that Kristof’s decision to reveal this girl’s identity was made without consultation with an editor. (Especially considering the vagueness of what he’s calling for, “hoping that the fortitude of survivors like [the girl] can inspire world leaders to step forward to stop this slaughter. It’s time to show the same compassion toward Congo that we have toward Haiti.”)

    That such a decision can be made in an ad-hoc way when the subject is a poor African emphasizes her powerlessness.

    I wrote more on the subject of the international reporting accountability conundrum back in October:

  • I think you are not being Americo-centric at all.

    This is an international principle, actually, contained in the UN Basic Principles on the Right to reparation for Victims of Gross Human Rights Violations. Re-traumatization and violations of a victims’ privacy are clearly shunned there.

    I am pretty sure any practitioner in the international field of child rights protection would tell you the same, since the Convention of the Rights of the Child enshrines the best interests of the child as a key principle.

    Oh, but the US has not ratified that Convention… well, ahem, what has the US ratified? Not much. I pretty much suspect that the Americo-centric position here is to enshrine as a principle whatever an American citizen wants to do when they roam the Earth.

    • Jina Moore says:

      Eamon, I think you make a crucial point. A huge part of the ethical issue in these cases is how we try to recalibrate an incredible imbalance of power. I’m really compelled by the way you’ve put this, too — that making this decision without an editor emphasizes the girl’s powerlessness. Reporters tend to think editors as barriers that have to be dodged. Your idea that how we relate to our editors says something about how we relate to our subjects is good food for thought.

      Eduardo, you are breaking my heart as I think about that now-famous (thanks, Samantha Power) filibuster on behalf of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide in the ’70s. And it still took another 15 years!

      But let me ask you: What do you think of Kristof’s other point (better represented in an earlier post of mine, you can read here) that journalists and NGOs differ — journalists are (too) inclined to publish, and NGOs (too) inclined to protect? Is it okay if we have different professional standards? Should journalists conform to NGO ethics on this? Are there ever grey areas?

      • Hervé says:

        Jina, I think you got it right in your previous post: The rules are different when victims are children and guardian’s consent does not always ensure a child’s best interests. Period.

        On Kristof’s other point about tensions between journalists and aid workers. Too bad that he raises it in this context: my first reaction was that this looked like an attempt to deviate attention from an ethical mistake on which there should not be any discussion.

        My second reaction was that his example of mandatory testing on AIDS is ill-chosen. One can argue that the resistance of humanitarian NGOs to mandatory testing for AIDS may have contributed to the spread of AIDS. This is a major public health debate (individual vs. community protection) and the question of whether NGOs are on the right side remains open. A journalist who believes they are taking the wrong stance should contribute to the debate and document the negative consequences. But illustrating this by putting on the web the name & face of, let’s say, a 13-year old girl, stating that she has AIDS because her boyfriend (same age, shown on the same photo) never went through mandatory testing, would still be a most unethical way to intervene in an ethical debate.

        Kristof’s larger point is that those are “messy, difficult issues, sometimes with real tradeoffs between the individual interest and the community interest”. Absolutely. It’s messy. Humanitarians are not always right. Do-gooders can do wrong, in a big way. It is not because you are visiting a humanitarian operation that you cannot criticise the work done. But when this involves exposing an individual for the greater good, those tradeoffs should not be left to the appreciation of a single individual who believes “because I think that’s the only way” (time to bring in the editor!).

        Journalists and humanitarians have different professions and are, adequately, subject to different professional standards. Tensions are to be expected but there are areas where standards should converge: not necessarily towards NGO standards but towards human rights standards, such as, for instance, laid out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child mentioned in Eduardo’s comment. The best interests of the child are one of those.

        Kristof: not sure this was such a damn good point. And, oh: don’t put all humanitarian NGOs in one bag. There are some very heated debates among them – including on AIDS and on what means are acceptable or not for advocacy purposes.

  • Mike says:

    Reading Kristof’s response and your exchange there are three things that aren’t really clear to me:

    1) Why not just change the name and put the little gray fuzzy box over the eyes in photos and videos? When I saw news on TV in the US with the little gray boxes, it still had the impact of making me sad while presumably protecting the person’s anonymity.

    2) On an aside, I would be very interested to know what ‘impact’ Kristof or any journalist sees from a given story in a case like this. I can see having a specific impact in an expose about corrosion in the public water supply, or a yearlong series of articles on urban homelessness. I don’t deny that this kind of reporting also makes things change, but I wonder what kind of ‘impact’ would be noticeable, and attributable to any given story. Measuring humanitarian impact is complicated, and it isn’t clear that we always make that much of a difference — what kind of impact does journalism target in these kinds of articles?

    3) The scandal to me is on the part of the IRC or whoever facilitated his trip, helped identify the kids to interview on the NGO side. Kristof is right that journalists have different impulses and codes than humanitarians, and need to do their jobs. But if his visit was being coordinated by aid workers, it is up to them to make sure that the work meets their ethical standards; that if they take him to meet some rape victims with a camera, they clarify with him what photos to take and use.

    4) As someone who knows the region well, I’m skeptical of the “they won’t ever read the paper” argument; the fact that they “don’t know about president Obama” gives me the impression that Kristof either does not have a good grasp on the communities where he’s working, or is playing up the remote/exotic angle for the reader. In E DRC, people move around, spread rumors, gossip, check email, listen to the radio, and take buses to big cities – it is not as cut off as Kristoff makes it appear. Plus, technology is expanding, and google is forever, so 10 years from now or 20 years from now, maybe the crisis will be over, but still everyone will know that particular aspect of her childhood.

    Still, he is right it is unlikely that this will come back on the girls. It is unlikely too that it would come back on them if you put their photo on the cover of an NGO funding brochure. But no NGO would do that. Why? Because it is exploitative, and you just never know. It’s like in the US. No one in New York will read 99% of articles in the El Paso tribune, but if Matt Drudge sees a bit of juicy gossip in the El Paso, links it on his site, people start emailing the article around, etc, all of a sudden that one random article becomes relevant. So, it probably won’t have an impact — but it might — and it is hard to imagine what good can come out of the article to outweigh that.

    • Jina Moore says:

      Thanks, Henri and Mike. I tend to agree with both of you (and am kind of an absolutist about this naming kids thing), but I’m better at my job when I do more listening and less reflexive dismissing. And this conversation is a great example of the benefit of listening. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Mike, my first reaction was the same — there are a lot of ways to obscure someone’s identity that doesn’t seem to me to lose impact (see Glenna Gordon’s photos, for example). What I thought was compelling about his second email is that he’s done that, and he says there’s a difference. He would know better than I would — I don’t have those numbers — so that interests me. Doesn’t mean it’s the right choice, of course.

      Your point about an NGO facilitating this is interesting…would love to hear from others in the NGO world on that. One question, though, Mike: When you say ‘measuring humanitarian impact is complicated,’ how would you suggest doing it? Or how have you seen others do it? I’m really curious about the process of this.

      Henri, you’re probably right that the point about tensions between journalists and aid workers would seem purer in a different context. But it’s still a worthwhile point, I think, whether it’s intentionally distracting or not. On the other hand, I think you’re right on about this: “A journalist who believes they are taking the wrong stance should contribute to the debate and document the negative consequences. But illustrating this by putting on the web the name & face of, let’s say, a 13-year old girl…”

  • JoAnna says:

    The grey area that Kristof’s “choice” has opened up is enormous and it’s one I think deserves real scrutiny away from the strictly black and white sides of any issue.

    I’m no expert, but I’m going to provide a perspective from the INGO side, which tends to defend the “victim” and the vulnerable because that’s what humanitarian workers do. At the end of the day, neither a journalist nor an NGO is able to stick around and ensure there are no repercussions meted out against a 9-year old girl; personal and professional capacity doesn’t allow for it. However, in terms of getting a message across, showcasing our work and urging donors to pump more money into programming, heart-breaking imagery and testimonies are a part of the storytelling. Aside from the political and economic under-the-table maneuvering that goes on in national parliaments, the EC, UN and other round-tables that determine where and how development money is spent, prioritizing the countries that money goes to and the programmes it is spent on also comes down to informal networks/relationships between organizations and governments, and how well an INGO/NGO/CSO can illustrate how much their expertise is needed on the ground, and how well they can work while staying out of the government’s hair.

    This is where the media comes in. A role that is often unclear, usually messy and sometimes downright wicked. For the most part, fieldtrips and interviews for journalists are organized by humanitarian actors with the intent of highlighting best case practices and showing how donor money can make a positive impact. Some organizations are running their own brand of guerrilla warfare and just want exposure: good/bad…it doesn’t matter. Sometimes facilitating interviews is done to call the international community’s attention to how rotten elements of a country/government/region still are in order to boost operations and involvement. In certain cases it is done when an organization has strict rules and regulations about breaking any vow of ‘habitual neutrality,’ therefore members of the press are brought in to do the dirty work. Yet, what unfortunately happens a lot of the time is that an organization facilitates interviews with the hope of getting a strong message out to educate and enlighten those outside their sphere of influence, but a journalist may have their own agenda that was not shared in advance with the NGO, and in the end information is misused, manipulated or watered down for sensationalist purposes. I’m not implying that this is what happened in this particular case, but when it does occur, there’s not a bloody thing we can do about it.

    But, and I stress the but, I think the telling factor of what underlying idea the NGO might have had can be seen in the media response. Not bothering to issue a sort of response or follow-up statement when there is a fall-out or backlash implies a degree of tacit compliance.

    At the end of the day the story was about a minor, and an impoverished one at that, which makes the whole “act of naming” sketchy. Based on this I’m inclined to agree with the camp of people who criticize Kristof’s choice. Once someone hits the age of 18, the gloves are off and when consent is given a journalist is empowered to broadcast the information as they see fit. However, there will always be ramifications for those who agree to bear witness (be they minors or adults) and it’s a matter of whether those retributions come in the distant or not-so-distant future. The responsibility ultimately lies with the journalist to weigh all potential consequences seriously, as well as his/her Editor to take stock of what they are about to run; but, it also lies with those who take the steps to bridge the divide. I’d be interested to know what kind of psycho-social programming endorses the positive impacts brought about by encouraging a 9 year old girl to publicly share her rape experience.

  • Mike says:

    Most aid agencies big, and medium-sized have gotten pretty sophisticated (or tried to be) in understanding the ‘impact’ of their work, for better or worse — asking questions like “how many malaria cases were prevented distributing x numbers of bednets in y number of villages” or “how many people listened to the xx radio program in ww villages and what percent changed their attitudes about zz or yy.” It depends on what you are doing, but there are all sorts of methodologies — the growing consensus is that for any action to be a justified use of resources, there should be an actual chain from activity to actual identifiable change in people’s lives so that people can evaluate it against other potential uses of the resources (money, people, energy).

    So to me the question is, how does a journalist know that they have impact in a piece like this one – and confidently say that there is a difference in ‘impact’ whether eyes are covered with grey fuzzies or not? How do you know if writing a tear-jerker on a rape victim in Bukavu is more useful than writing about a starving street kid in Kinshasa?

    It isn’t clear to me what the causal link is between any particular article and changing the lives of real people – is it changing policy, encouraging westerners to give money, encouraging readers to feel bad for the specific people in the article? And how can you say you had an impact? Fan mail?

    To me it isn’t clear that attention helps in and of itself — ‘awareness’ of sexual violence in the parts of the DRC journalists most commonly visit has yielded lots of funds that are earmarked to the provinces, people and places mentioned in articles, which is good, but the rape crisis is nationwide so the money doesn’t necessarily go where it will do the most good; it seems pretty clear to me that awareness of the problem only in specific parts of the DRC distorts the aid flows — though the flip side is who knows how much assistance would be any if there was less coverage. I have read some people who speculate that coverage of darfur caused donors to over-emphasize peacekeepers rather than WatSan and other stuff (but then who knows how many resources would have been there at all had it not been for the coverage).

    There are obviously shades of grey, but my biggest question is — what exactly is a columnist (not a reporter) trying to change in the lives of Congolese, by visiting eastern DRC and writing about people? What ‘impact’ and how do you know?

    • Jina Moore says:

      Mike, I agree with you it’s hard to judge what the impact of awareness-raising is. The NGo measurements you talk about are measuring impact of deliverables, which it seems to me (and, from your comments, seems to seem to you) is much easier. How NGOs measure the impact of their awareness work may be as difficult as how journalists do.

      What Nick Kristof has that most journalists I know do not is a huge platform. He probably can look at the number/nature of comments on his blog about his last column, the number of emails he gets, and probably a host of slightly more personal indicators and see changes, which he might use to gauge impact. (I don’t know; I didn’t ask him for his data.) It’s possible he’s gotten emails that say, “This helped changed X policy.” Certainly fan mail is some kind of indicator; how important…I don’t know. These are dilemmas journalists and advocates share — what good does awareness really do?

      Quick question though, Mike: The Congo rape crisis is “nationwide”? I only know the Kivus, and then not too well, but I’m surprised by that. And I would certainly guess that if there is a lot of rape across Congo, the nature of rape in South Kivu is different than, say, in Katanga. But you probably know better than me, so please tell me more.

      Joanna, that’s a good point, about the lack of a statement or something from whomever facilitated the trip. I also appreciate your explanation of the situation of NGOs who call in the media… It’s true the NGOs and the journalists each have their own agenda — but I think both often equally guilty of hiding it from the other. No communications person I’ve ever sat down with has said straight, “So here’s what we’re pushing and what we want you to write about: Blah blah blah…” It’s much more subtle. And because the comm people manage my access to a place — for whichever of the dozens of story-related reasons I may need to be there — there’s an amount of that I have to listen to, just to get in. And often, even if I’m clear about what I need there…

  • Mike says:

    Hi Jina:

    Regarding the rape crisis as being nationwide, it is true and one of the misconceptions is that it is primarily a war-linked problem; certainly the war is part of it, but rape in the DRC (as well as anywhere) is also a breakdown-of-law-and-order problem and an attitude-toward-women-and-sex problem. Certainly the number of incidents in North and South Kivu are higher than elsewhere due to the war, but they are not astronomically so, and the key thing is that funding is not proportional.

    It is hard to have statistics nationwide, because most monitoring activities are concentrated in the Kivus and Kinshasa — in large parts of the DRC we just don’t know what is going on. Where there are more activities against rape, more cases also get registered. For example in Katanga, which you cite, health zone coverage is 35%; in North Kivu it is 70%, in South Kivu it is 61% (Kinshasa itself is only 40%). So, in Katanga fewer health facilities are available to treat rape victims (or any other kind of patient), and thus they aren’t available to record the frequency; because they go unrecorded, they get less support, and the cycle continues.

    BUT there are some things we do know – no one can know all of the DRC, so I’ll take this from the UN’s 2010 humanitarian action plan in the DRC rather than anecdotes:

    1) Humanitarians in just about every province reported that rape and sexual violence is a problem, and increasing in their area.

    2) In one single health zone in Bandundu (Kasongo Lunda), they claim 180 rape cases a month over the first six months of 2009 (primarily due to the expulsions from Angola). As a point of reference, the headlines say that there are 160 cases a week for all of North and South Kivu. (Note the month/week difference in reporting — but still given the difference in sizes between one health zone and two whole provinces, the rate is astronomically high)

    3) In Kasai Occidentale over the first six months of 2010, the humanitarians wrote that they had identified more than 1,000 victims, NONE of whom received any care or treatment. Kinshasa had nearly 500. Both provinces had health zone coverage less than 50%, and comparatively few humanitarian actors, so it is reasonable to assume the actual rates are much, much higher. By comparison, North Kivu had registered 2,200 in that period, but had treatment.

    4) Tembo territory in Bandundu reports more than 300 cases a quarter, higher than all but one territory in N Kivu, and comparable to the worst in S Kivu. But the budgets aren’t even comparable — to take the HAP budget’s Health and Protection sections (the two sectors concerned with sexual violence), Bandundu’s budget is 7.8 million, while North Kivu’s is 33 million. This is worse when we consider government donor efforts — both recent announcements by USAID of new multi-million dollar funding to help rape victims were limited to the Kivu provinces, or the East. Bandundu is a larger province, with lower health coverage rates, and with some areas that have higher rates of sexual violence (and many areas where we have no idea). But less media awareness.

    5) Radio Okapi the UN radio reported that in the month of January five localities (villages) received more than 4,000 expulsees from Angola, including 800 women. Of those 800 women, 220 were raped.

    6) There are lots of very sound reasons why focus and funding goes to the Kivus. These areas have been more consistent in recording appallingly high rates — I am not saying that there should be less funding in the Kivus, or even that a disproportionate amount shouldn’t be directed there. But the impression in the media that it is only a problem in the Kivus is just not true, and unfortunately the rate of funding corresponds to media coverage and not prevalence rates.

    Most of the other places where high rates of rape were reported were places linked to the Angola expulsions. Rape is systematic in the expulsions — thousands of rapes, tens of thousands of people dumped in the jungle, and for all of the ‘awareness’ being raised on Congo, I have never heard of a single US journalist apart from a wire service, let alone columnist or activist group mention it once. This is why I am frankly pretty skeptical about Kristof and others who come to the country to cover the most-covered story here. It is a big country, with big problems, and the Kivus are just one part of it.

  • Jina Moore says:

    Hi Mike,

    This is fascinating, in part because of something I heard from a Congolese journalist about a year ago. She covers rape and the aftermath and health-related things, which we talked about, in South Kivu. She told me that rape is a problem from outside; that Congolese men would never rape. I think she was quietly pinning the blame on the Rwandans (FDLR).

    My own bias as a dutiful universalist is that there’s probably not one culture more or less prone to rape than another…

    This is really fascinating information, Mike. Thanks.

  • Anna says:

    Hi – i have only just come across your site and saw this piece. I work with survivors of SGBV in Liberia.

    Recently whilst chatting with several young girls during a regular counselling session, we were talking about concerns they have regarding where they are living at the moment (a secret safe house). Two girls mentioned that they were confused about why people had come in the previous week and taken their photos. i don;t know who these people were, nor do i know who gave them permission to come to the safe house let alone to take photos without even seeking permission, or explaining to the girls what and why they were doing what they were doing.

    It does not matter if your story will lose impact because you do not have a photo. It does not matter if your story seems less appealing if you have to change names etc. What matters is the impact that this has on the survivors.

    We spend months working with survivors convincing them that we will not share their stories. That no one in their family or community needs to know what they tell us. We spend months building their courage so that they can testify in court.

    What do i do when a girl refuses to go to court because she is worried some one will take her picture? What do i tell a girl who because her photo was taken she wants to leave the safe house? How do i convince a survivor of sexual assault that the person that took her photo was not paid by the perpetrators family to come in and take her photo so as to shame her in the community? These are all problems that i and other counsellors have to deal with after ‘well meaning’ journalists come to get their story.

    I wrote a letter to Kristoff after his Liberian visit, where he went to a safe house and interviewed a young survivor of sexual assault. What skills does he have to be doing this? To be asking a young girl why she is in the safe house? How she is feeling?

    I did not receive a reply.

    I don’t pretend to be a journalist. So journalists should stop pretending to be counsellors.

    • Jina Moore says:

      Hi Anna,

      Thanks for joining in the conversation. It’s great to have your perspective.

      Two things, though: I don’t think journalists pretend to be counselors. I can’t speak for Kristof because I wasn’t at the safe house he visited in Liberia (or with him on any other of his reporting trips), but reporters I worked with are always careful to be clear about their role. They explain what they can do and what they can’t. The reporters I like working with best, and work with more than once, are also careful to explain to sources and to intermediaries what they can do to minimize harm to the victim. When I worked in Liberia with photographer Glenna Gordon on a story about rape prosecutions and rape survivors, we promised not to use names or faces unless the people we talked to were 18 or over and wanted us to. And even then, we decided not to use names or faces, out of concern that it might impact possibly pending legal action. (In the end, in fact, we decided it was better to tell a story from a case already closed; see below.)

      But we didn’t pretend to be counselors, and I don’t think responsible journalists do. The best of us do our best to be careful in these situations, and we’re helped by resources like the Dart Center on Journalism and Trauma, which offers guidance on how to interview survivors. Because you’re right, it’s a different kind of interview that requires a nuanced set of skills.

      The second thing: Agencies like yours can keep journalists like me out. And it sounds from your post like your agency needed to do a better job of preparing staff like you for a journalist’s visit (or at least alerting you to it), so that you can then answer those girls’ questions. But that’s not the journalist’s fault.

      I hate to be saying this, but you/your organization do(es)n’t have to give us access. If you truly believe that it’s going to be difficult to explain to the girls in your safe house that I am there to write a story and/or take a picture for genuine journalism, and not for any number of insidious reasons, then don’t let me in.

      Granted, if you said no, I would try to negotiate with you, if I thought the story was important. And the only reason I would be talking to you in the first place is that we share a set of values — that the women and girls you help need and deserve that help. We would also most likely share an assumption — that my writing a story about your organization can help them get that help. I can’t imagine you (or your org’s leaders) would waste valuable time on me if you (or they) didn’t think that.

      So if you said no, I would explain all that. If I were negotiating with you, I would explain my philosophy, show you my previous work, and if I were a photographer, show you how I can take pictures that protect identity — right there, on the spot (and my collaborator Glenna Gordon did just this when we worked together, one of the many reasons I respect her so much.) And if you still didn’t think it was a good idea, I would do a different story.

      And that, in fact, is precisely what happened to me when I tried to do a story about a safe house in Liberia. They had been burned by some journalists in the past, and even with when I explained my victim-centered approach to my work, they didn’t want to risk it. I respect that. And I did a different story.

      The story I did, about a young girl who’d been raped and her experience testifying in Court E, I did the same way. We asked the court for help identifying a willing source, so the first point of contact between the victim and us was the advocate, a person the family trusted. Then Glenna and I explained our approach and philosophy to the girl, to her mother and to her court advocate (who was present for the interview); we set ground rules (including not naming her or saying where she lives); and we stuck to them. The result is a story that respects the victim and the legal process but gets an important story out there. (And when it finally airs, I’ll add the link.)

      My point in that last paragraph is to say that there ARE ways to be a responsible journalist AND to help the populations that you, Anna, serve. I agree with you that journalists need to be careful. And I agree with you that some journalists do their job poorly (or sometimes, more than poorly). But I don’t think that means that careful, sensitive journalists can’t — or shouldn’t — do these stories, or talk to survivors. Some of whom, as I learned in Liberia, really want to tell their stories to people like me.

      • Anna says:

        Just to clarify – it is not the orgnaization that i work for that is running the safe houses. In Liberia these days, most if not all are run by local organisation or the government. Both of which are severely underfunded. the group i work with provides supplemental counselling and support to survivors due to the high number of cases that are referred to the safe house that is currently staffed by just 2 counsellors.

        I and many others do reguarly refuse journalists and researchers from accessing the safe house and all survivors, no matter their age. However many journalists and researchers have managed to get in by ‘giving something small’ or by promising the staff that the story / research will bring a greater focus to their needs so will bring in more donors. And as i am not at the safe house 24 hours a day i am unable to stop this from happening occasionally, despite my best efforts to convince local staff not to let anyone in.

        I am sure you have to agree that despite you having an ethical approach there are MANY that do not – and this of course applies to all professions, not just journalists. And because of this i and many others in the same line of work will continue to refuse journalists and researchers access to survivors, no matter the approach or promises made.

  • Jina Moore says:

    Thanks, Anna. I hear you. There are definitely journalists whose practices I would call unethical. I’ve crossed paths with some, and I’ve also been burned by them. Journalists who break the rules anger smart, caring people like you, and then I have a hard time doing the smart, caring story I would want to do. (And the practice of “giving something small” — a euphemism I understand to mean offering money in exchange for access — is an outright violation of all kinds of rules. If I were an advocate of any kind, I’d never let in a journalist who offered me cash. That’s a sure sign of a problem, in my book.)

    But I would urge you not to blanket ban all journalists. Some really can do a good job. And there are ways you can vet us (I’d be happy to give you some tips via email; let me know). Sad to say, press coverage can be useful in situations like you describe, to garner awareness of — and, the point, funding for — underresourced but worthwhile projects. That seems to be a lesson of the strange situation Mike described, in which there is a lot of funding for victims of sexual violence in the Kivus, but almost nothing for women elsewhere in Congo, despite there being a significant problem in other parts of the country. Journalists — the right ones — can be allies. They don’t always have to be enemies.

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