Subjectivity, advocacy in covering human rights

The tension between objective news reporting and advocacy was the subject of the final plenary panel that I moderated last week at the Global Media Forum in Bonn. Sponsored by Germany’s multi-language, government broadcast agency, Deutsche Welle, the three-day conference brought together journalists and experts from every continent to address but not necessarily resolve the media’s role in covering human rights abuses.

The tone was set the first day by keynote speaker Thorbjorn Jagland. Placing the contemporary debate into historical context, Jagland referred to Germany’s and Europe’s experience in World War II and the Holocaust. “People believed that if they looked in the other direction when the Jews were brought to the camps, they would be safe. But it was the other way around. At the end of the day, nobody was safe,” said Jagland, who is secretary-general of the Council of Europe and chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. “If human rights [are] not for all, they are for none of us at the end of the day.”

The forum’s final day began with a keynote address by Monika Houser of Medica Mondial, who discussed violence against women. The panelists who addressed objectivity versus subjectivity included Eduardo del Buey, a Canadian diplomat with experience in Iran and throughout Latin America. He pointed out that one can be a journalist and a human being at the same time. Alvito de Souza runs the largest organization of Catholic community media outlets which, he noted, are often on the frontlines. Supinya Klangnarong addressed the struggle for a free press in Thailand during a time of ongoing political turmoil.

Fred Petrossians offered his view as the Iran editor for the Harvard University-based blogging network, Global Voices. Aidan White, the former head of the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, talked about role of good journalism in tough economic times. Finally, Professor Tom Lansner from Columbia University in New York noted that there is no contradiction between combining a dispassionate analysis with a passionate commitment to truth as well as justice.

You can listen to the panel on objectivity versus advocacy and almost every other presentation here.  

(Reporting from Bonn)