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June 1997

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[Used at the media conference on 'journalism of attachment'.]

Mick Hume, Editor LM Magazine - THE DANGERS OF ATTACHMENT

There are two faces to the new school of war reporting which Martin Bell has dubbed the Journalism of Attachment.

One face is caring and concerned. It represents a call for journalists to record human emotions and suffering as well as cold facts; a call for news reporting which, Bell's words, 'cares as well as knows'. This is the face that speaks of taking sides with the victims, and standing up for good against evil. The worthy aims which it declares have made the Journalism of Attachment attractive to a new generation of reporters.

The other face of the Journalism of Attachment is moralising and even repressive. It means journalists redefining complex conflicts around the world as simple morality plays in which the innocent must be protected against the forces of darkness. It means journalists appointing themselves as righteous judges of who and what is 'good' or 'evil'. It means that a journalist's responsibility to report all of the facts can come a poor second to preaching the morally correct 'Greater Truth'.

This is, frankly, a recipe for bad journalism. It raises the risk of reporters seeing what they want to see rather than all that is there; the risk of journalists simply ignoring those facts which do not fit into the black-and-white moral framework which they want to impose on a situation; the risk of substituting tear-jerking human-interest stories for a full analysis of the political context; and the risk of treating the public like unsophisticated children who must be taught what is 'right', rather than allowed to judge the facts for themselves.

But there are worse dangers than that. Those who fall the wrong side of the Good v Evil line which the press corps draws in the sand - the Iraqi Muslims, the Bosnian Serbs, the Rwandan Hutus - can expect to be on the receiving end of more than a bad press. The Journalism of Attachment demands that the wicked be punished. The laptop bombardiers have paved the way for these people to be hammered with impunity.

It seems that not all victims of war are to be 'given a voice' by the Journalism of Attachment. The selective, even arbitrary, character of its concern suggests that the impetus behind the Journalism of Attachment does not spring from what is really happening in the war-zones 'over there'. Instead, it is more of an attempt to fill what feels like a moral vacuum over here.

For those of us who live in complex Western societies where all of the old certainties are being called into question, it is no doubt easier to redefine right and wrong and lay down moral absolutes in relation to foreign places. This is what the Journalism of Attachment is ultimately about. It turns other people's conflicts into battlegrounds where we can find a false sense of moral purpose and fight for our souls. That might make some journalists feel better about themselves. But at what price for journalistic standards?

LM magazine has first-hand experience of what happens to those who step outside the rigid Good v Evil framework of moralistic journalism today. We have been hit with libel writs and gagging orders from ITN, and subjected to a smear campaign in the national press. Why? Because we blasphemed against the Greater Truth, by raising embarrassing questions about the facts in ITN's award-winning reports from Trnopolje camp in Bosnia (see Thomas Deichmann, 'The Picture that Fooled the World', LM, February 1997).

LM's legal battle with ITN brings out some of the wider issues at stake in the debate about the Journalism of Attachment: issues of press freedom, and of our right and responsibility to report the truth as we understand it, regardless of whom we might offend.

We are asking all of the media professionals present at the conference today to support us in this fight, and to detach themselves from the dangerous assumptions behind the concerned face of the Journalism of Attachment.

For further information, contact the LM libel appeal, The Off The Fence Fund, BM Off The Fence, London, WC1N 3XX. Phone 0976 894 079

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