Reporters should not act like superheroes, says Adie

Adie: focus on digging for truth

Journalists in the field should concentrate on reporting and not get involved in the conflict, BBC’s chief foreign correspondent Kate Adie told a press luncheon audience.

"I am often asked the question: ‘When does a journalist intervene?’ What’s often embodied in the question is the belief that the reporter is a kind of Superman or Wonder Woman who is capable of leaping into action and subduing a group of people waving Kalashnikovs about or telling a group of fighters that ‘people in Tunbridge Wells will be watching you’. The weird confidence in the power of the media is baffling but it is very common," she said.

Speaking at a lunch for the presentation of the annual David Watt Prize, she said that there have been "only a tiny handful of instances that I could have intervened and I’m not sure that it would have been effective".

She told of an incident in central Bosnia where a TV crew stopped to help a woman who had been badly injured by a sniper, taking her to a field hospital run by Bosnian Muslims.

"Two days later their clearly marked vehicle came under heavy fire and the crew sustained very bad injuries. Half an hour later a message was phoned into their operations centre to say ‘That’s what we Croats think of your Good Samaritan act’."

Adie, who presented this year’s prize to Philip Stephens of the Financial Times for his "Vulnerability of a Superpower" article, went on: "I’m not going to change the world. It is important that journalists should dig for the truth, sift through the lies and the spin and serve it up in an acceptable manner. It is for others to make judgements and take action."

She said there were few organisations left in the world that were na•ve about media manipulation. "Even the most remote terrorist groups are no slouches these days at understanding how the Western media operates. Videos are produced from caves and press conferences conducted from a jungle clearing. Control and manipulation of the media are not only the tools of the rich and sophisticated of the west."

It was a journalist’s job to "hack through the layers of public relations, press conferences and piffle".

"So much is handed to journalists on a plate. Reports are presented as an attractively set out set of statistics with neat bullet points and a particular emphasis.

"These are stories that are no stories at all but the contrived product of a well-paid publicist.

"A journalist in the field should sniff out what’s going on well away from the main events," she said.

By Philippa Kennedy

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