Conference warns media bias can thwart aid work

Speakers at a conference on the relationship between aid workers and the media have urged journalists to be more independent when reporting ­humanitarian disasters.

Aid action: alleged to be at risk from media
Aid action: alleged to be at risk from media

Martyn Broughton, editor of online humanitarian news service Reuters AlertNet, told delegates at the event that journalists can undermine the work of aid agencies if they get too close to a story and see themselves as aid workers, or use their rep­orts as fundraising tools.

Broughton said: ‘Journalists should not appear to be spoon-fed. The aid agency should be convincing an impartial and independent observer. If the reader or viewer starts to doubt the objectivity of the journalist, that damages your cause.’

CAFOD’s (Catholic Agency For Overseas Development) head of media ­Fiona Callister agreed that journalists should retain impartial­ity. ‘I think it is a dubious national journalist outlet that accepts money for flights and accommodation. This compromises independence’, she said. ‘I have seen some surprising examples of this in the past’, she added.

Both Broughton and McAllister argued that journalists have a duty to hold aid agencies to account.

Broughton said: ‘Aid agencies need the Fourth Estate to continue its tradition of prodding and questioning, not holding hands and helping with everything.’

The conference, titled ‘Can journalists and aid workers trust each other?’, held in London on Monday, was organised by the Active Learning Network for Acc­ountability and Performance in Humanitarian Act­ion, the Humanitarian Practice Network, Overseas Development Institute and Reuters AlertNet.

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