Journalism and exploitation

Here is another thoughtful post from Liz Hulley:

A recent New York Times article described the problem of male rape in Congo. The piece was accompanied by photographs of four of the victims, framed by striking blue backgrounds. The caption read, “… All are Congolese men who were recently raped and agreed to be photographed.”*

I had to wonder…why was it significant that they had their photographs taken? And what was the incentive? Is this “good journalism”? Would the story have held as much weight without it?

At a conference on orphan ministry that I attended in the spring, they told the story of some orphans who had been visited by a team of Americans. The Americans quickly won their trust and interviewed the children. The children were eager to share their stories and agreed to be videotaped.

These tapes were later aired on TV, and the kids eventually saw themselves on TV. Their personal lives became a sensation, something used to produce a reaction. It was traumatizing for them.

This leads me to the question…when does an attempt at advocacy become exploitation? The U.S. journalists recently freed in N. Korea had been investigating the sex trade. Their research was surely a worthy cause. Yet I wonder how they would have chosen to publish the results.

Although I have shared about specific children here and there on my blog, I’ve been pretty careful about it recently. I avoid last names, addresses, and orphanage numbers. Not only do I want to keep them safe, I want to respect their privacy.

I wouldn’t write something personal about my closest friends on here without their permission, or without feeling certain that I’m not writing something that they would object to.

I start to feel uncomfortable realizing that some of my ESL students will grow up and start using the Internet, and just may run across these posts someday. Would they approve?

So why write about it at all? Mainly I share the stories because they have become a part of my life, and this is my personal blog.

But there is an advocacy element, too.

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Ps. 82: 3,4)

When I do a presentation on orphans, I truly want people to get involved to help make a difference. And I use photos and personal stories to show that these are real, individual children.

But I don’t want to manipulate people’s emotions. Sometimes I really do face an ethical dilemma. In my heart, I believe that God is the one to call people to action, and that I should leave it in His hands. Therefore, I think it’s better to avoid appealing to the emotions.

When I’m speaking to a body of believers, I do want to speak from the heart, but I think there is a way to do it without misusing the plight of others, even if it is to save them.

*From “Symbol of Unhealed Congo-Male Rape Victims.” In The New York Times August 4, 2009.

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