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Powerful Ethical Questions


Over the last few weeks I have received many questions from you about ethics! I applaud you for your passionate dedication to a form of journalism that is as strong as it is ethical.

I'd like to respond to the whole group regarding 2 powerful ethical questions that have recently come up:
Can I report on something that can hurt one person to serve a thousand?
Can i publish a story that leads to violence against one person in order to raise media awareness about the situation of the rest of the affected group?

These are powerful questions that get right to the heart of our work as journalists.
In general there is no easy answer.
Our goal as journalists is to minimize harm. Often times we have to publish a story that will, as you say, hurt a few to help a thousand. But when you say "hurt" one person -- how do you mean? Would someone be ostracized from their job or community? Or would they be killed? Is any story worth a human life?

A journalist is a strong person because, she, unlike any other professional is forced to make these difficult decisions.
If a story leads to violence or revolution, that could be a good thing. It could be the spark that lights the fire of change. It could also be exaggerated and misreported, intentionally or unintentionally. If you seek to report on volatile issues you must do so with huge emphasis turned toward your ethical obligations. And of course you must seek the counsel of your mentors and editors. Last but not least, you must consider your own safety and the safety of your family.
Most importantly, I encourage you to take journalism one step at a time. The more you learn to hone your skills, the more equipped you will be to handle difficult questions of this magnitude.
As we progress through the VOF program, you will find yourself more and more ready to tackle bigger issues.
For now, keep thinking big as you practice your reporting, writing and interviewing skills in the series of exercises that have been planned for you.
We will get there. Together. One step at a time.
I admire your passionate quest to create change and to do so responsibly.
Please do not hesitate to ask if you have additional questions or comments. I look forward to continuing this conversation with all of you!



jap21's picture

Thanks Cristi

We have had an amazing conference on skype for which we are very thankful to you dear Cristi. Your wisdom and knowledge has been very helpful to all of us.

As for the questions you have just answered, I think you are very right on everything, but I would like to add something: The world needs affirmative action, but in my opinion too many people think that change can only be achieved through violent crisis and deaths when most of the stuff they want to achieve can be NEGOTIATED and they have to admit that neither the right wing parties nor the left have all the answers or have been the albacea to the problems of humanity, meanwhile non violent behavior, when encouraged and well understood, makes up for a different and more responsible way of communication an achievement of reasonable goals. The right wingers should understand that people are not for sale and their lives are not 'commodities' and left wingers have to understand that their so called democracy of one party only is not democracy and that they should not teach poor people to be violent to get what they need as they should not forget they are the sons, brothers, relatives of someone else and should not be used as life - trading coin for the change (it is much better to invest the money they put into teaching how to make war, into education for better negotiation instead).

Journalists, when they intend to be the spark that lights the fire of revolutions, should understand that it is not THEIR lives that will be lost, neither are so the lives of the leaders that instigate to violence. Humanity needs to begin thinking of better ways to solve problems. Violence instigation through the media has been responsible, in many wars and so-called wars, for many deaths and countless missunderstandings that lead to deaths. For this reason, understanding that we, as correspondents, have the responsibility of bringing non violent behavior to the minds of the general public is not only advisable, but a unique weapon against the globalization of tribe-like violence in local atmospheres.

Understanding that this new century needs to be different from what history has shown us before, and double-checking the words we say in every article so that they show the path to non violent ways of communication, action and negotiation is crucial for changing the social construction of violence globally. Humanity as a whole can benefit greatly if media in general have responsible journalism rules for publishing all kind of news. This means having to make an effort not only to be truthful and/or ethical, but also responsible and non violent, as well as ready to avoid instigation to violence.

In friendship and warm embracement,


Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

Joannes's picture



thanks for the powerful responses to many of our numerous questions. Many a times journalists have found themselves in problems, some ending up bhind bars for exposing some well-guarded scandals. Recently in Kenya, some investigative reporters exposed a fraud with a certain car tracking company. as a result, the company has been closed down and several have lost their job. As a journalist, i am faced with that fear of exposing and causing a thousand jobs lost. in such a situation, what do i do? What is ethical?

Otherwise, thanks for your time at the conference call and your strong insights.


We Can Do It!

Hi Cristi,
Thanks for your words of advice, I know it must be the response to some of the question that came out during the conference. When one is passionate about something, one can be so zealous that caution could be thrown into the wind. we know we have a lot to learn most especially somebody like me that i have never done this before. My husband and children are already afraid because they know i can be so passionate about anything i want to do.
I was not able to hear much from the conference and you were not able to hear my voice at all. Thanks very much for posting this


Busayo Obisakin
Women inspiration Development center
Ile-Ife, Nigeria

olutosin's picture


Hello Cristi,

Thanks so much for th eopportunity granted us, we are learning everyday and as my people will say, If we are opportuned to be alive we will surely eat meat as big as the elephant, this is a "long sort" life time opportuiny .

From Nigeria, lots of hugs.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town


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