Analysis: Journalists as activists?

Joseph Mayton
4 Min Read

CAIRO: A current debate among journalists in the country is whether a reporter can be an activist as well as do their job. A journalist’s job is to report from the ground about what is happening. In Egypt, this is often about opposition-group demonstrations.

Can a reporter be an active participant at demonstrations as well write about what occurred? This is, cliché or not, the million dollar question. Over the past few months, reporters have been seen at demonstrations chanting along with the demonstrators, which can raise eyebrows over the ethical position of the reporter.

“If you can write objectively then that is all that is needed to maintain credibility, says Bassem Khalifa, a democracy activist. “Being active in expressing one’s views does not necessarily compromise your position as a reporter.

Khalifa believes that the all journalists have a bias and that comes out in their writing, one way or another.

“All journalists have the right to voice their opinions, and as long as they maintain the separation from the two it seems to be all right for them to chant at demonstrations and be active participants in demonstrations, continues Khalifa.

Not everyone agrees with Khalifa’s assessment. Cairo-based journalist Eduard Padberg argues that it is impossible for a journalist to participate in a demonstration and maintain credibility as a reporter.

“You can’t be a reporter and push your political objectives across through your work, because this goes against what it means to be a journalist, says Padberg.

Padberg believes that to be a reporter means to separate your views from your work as a reporter’s duty is to tell others what is happening in their world.

“These things can get easily mixed up, especially in a country where freedom of expression is hampered, he continues. “You should always write according to the principles of the profession so it depends on how a journalist views this.

“If you are already an activist and begin to write as a reporter, then there is a fine line that must be followed, but as in most reporting, the editor has a lot to do with this.

Khalifa agrees with Padberg’s assertions. However, he says that is in an ideal world where journalists are unbiased.

“The views of a reporter should only come out in editorials or opinion pieces, but then again, it is difficult because in Egypt these views are often together with one’s writing, adds Khalifa.

Thus, the paradox is a difficult one to break down and the question will not be easily answered, especially in a country where journalists are subject to imprisonment for the things they write.

One thing is certain and Khalifa and Padberg agree, journalism needs to be handled well in Egypt if the country is to break out from the shackles that have been in place. There must be a differentiation between what activism and reporting. If this doesn’t happen, Padberg says, the field of journalism will no longer be a credible profession in the country, leading to a stalemate of debate.

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