Tell the story or save the life: Journalists’ everyday predicament

Graphic details of the foiled August 16 MDC demonstration in Harare where baton weilding police used brutal force to disperse protestors would not have been known without journalists' footage, images and content.


By Marshall Bwanya

Graphic details of the foiled August 16 MDC demonstration in Harare where baton wielding police used brutal force to disperse protestors would not have been known without journalists’ footage, images and content.

However, a viral image taken by Aaron Ufumeli of an injured unconscious elderly woman flanked by journalists taking her pictures sparked public debate amongst Zimbabweans concerning journalists code of conduct.

She had been beaten by Anti-Root police officers with batons and lost consciousness.

She lay motionless at the corner of Jason Moyo and Sam Nujoma in Harare’s CBD where more were tear-gassed.

“To be or not be,” articulates how  we are often conflicted to make even the slightest of decisions when facing a dilemma.

Simply because at that very moment we struggle to distinguish what is morally right and wrong.

Do journalists first have an immediate moral obligation to assist injured civilians before pursuing the story as it unfolds?

Or should they tell the story and forego saving the victim?

After all civilian protestors were gassed, beaten and detained by the police, in journalists full glare, covering events as they unfolded.

Ufumeli said journalists prioritise covering the story first, to inform and educate the world about news unfolding before they can render an support to civilians.

“A good journalist has a nose for news, and captures the incident first as evidence of what is actually transpiring before they can render any support to civilians,” he said.

Ufumeli has covered some of Zimbabwe’s most volatile episodes and his lenses has told stories far better than text in many instances.

Political Analyst with Leaders for Africa Network (LAN) Michael Mhlanga argued the story should be told after the life has been saved.

“You can do both, tell the story when you have saved the victim first. The scales of value will prioritise human life over the story.

“I don’t think the paradox is that  complicated.

“Cardinals of journalism can be compromised if thee is something of higher value at stake. In such instances human life,” he said.

Some journalists who spoke to this publication on the other hand indicated that missing a story while saving or getting part of the story was suicidal in newsrooms, worse still in the ever shrinking Zimbabwean one.

Young Journalists Association (YOJA) communications officer Leopold Munhende admitted that journalists faced moral dilemma  to assist the victim or tell the story.

“Being a journalist in times of conflict were civilians are being beaten by the police you are conflicted whether to pursue the story as it unfolds or assist injured civilians.

“The challenge however, is that journalists are not medical experts, and we forego being emotionally attached to the story to maintain our objectivity when we are on the field, for the country and the whole world to see events as they unfold,” he said.

Munhende who was at the scene of the infamous picture admitted that the first thing he thought of was a story when he saw the woman lying down on the tar.

“I ran to take a picture not because I did not emphathise with the victim but that is how I am programmed and I am sure this applies to many more journalists.

“And for the record journalists did try to assist but were stopped by Anti-Riot officers.”

The debate will not end and the picture will go definitely be a case study at colleges across the world.

Ordinary citizens continue to add their voice to the raging debate with hope next time journalists will save a life and get the story afterwards.