Ethics and Disasters: How to Report Suffering Without Intervening

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I will begin by stating clearly in the spirit of integrity that my moral compass and my own faith drive me to be unequivocally in support of helping fellow humans regardless of your professional duties or commitments, the story is not as important as the life you could save. With that said I will now present both sides of the question of whether or not it is unethical for a journalist to assist those in need if there are exceptions to when or when not to help. I will end by expanding on my own beliefs and why in our increasing climate disaster we must reconsider the ethical questions in favor of a larger one: are we willing to deny life? 

In an article journalist, Rachel Smolkin recounts the ethical dilemma she and other journalists faced during Hurricane Katrina by telling her own story and the decisions others made on the ground, whether they would act differently and how they contend and cope with the decisions they made. Smolkin uses the examples to defend her belief that journalists must remain objective and not place themselves in the situation rather be passive observers, which she describes as it is okay to allow someone to use a phone or pass out water, but offering shelter or rides is crossing the line. 

Reports who were from local news circuits felt differently because this was their home, for them they reported, helped and thought about the ethical dilemmas after. 

For those who feel obligated to help or who feel that they should be allowed to help if the help is needed feel that it is up to one’s own conscious when to provide assistance and when to be a passive actor. 

For me passive action is violent. I believe that you can report and state that it was imperative for you to help and assist the aid relief if it is a matter of life or death, which in climate emergencies such as Katrina which was also a matter of racial inequality not finding food or safe shelter was emergent. It is a blessing that the family Smolkin encountered found shelter eventually but that story could have turned out differently, any person with resources or connection to resources has a moral obligation as well as an obligation to racial equity to provide the care that the government refuses to–while reporting on the lack of aid. 

In the coming years, the storms will be worse and the loss of human life, the lives of the poor, of disabled people, of communities of color and we must understand that the climate crisis will be played out for the most disadvantaged and read about by the privileged, what will we do besides telling the stories of people, will we fight to save them, or we will be failures? 

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