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March 1997

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[Guardian - 11 March 1997]

Letters to the Editor - And that's the world as I see it

Martin Bell's essay (Here is the war - live by satellite, March 8) raises some important issues about objectivity and reporting. He claims to report with fairness and impartiality but also thinks it is important to practise what he calls "the journalism of attachment", a journalism that cares as well an knows.

Journalists have long taken sides around a variety of causes, with varying degrees of justification. However, the mixture of "caring and knowing" that Bell proposes leads to the conflation of fact and opinion, akin to the crusading journalism he criticises. Perhaps the most grotesque recent example is the way in which Kate Aide was chastised for her dispassionate report on the Dunblane shootings. It was alleged that Aide failed to comment on questions of good and evil sufficiently, sticking instead to details of the dead and injured.

(Dr) Graham Barnfield, Media Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University, Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield S10 2EP

As a professional historian with a deep regard for truth, I must object to Martin Bell's proposal for "attached" war reporting. In his profession, as in mine, the objective presentation of facts is both a duty and a necessity. When I teach my students about the American Civil War, I hope they emerge from class with a clearer understanding of what happened and why. They an draw their own moral conclusions about Confederates and Unionists.

It is not up to me, or Martin Bell to "attach" ourselves to one side or the other in explaining the dynamics at work. Indeed, moral judgements in contemporary war reporting are incredibly problematic as they can influence policy decisions in a misguided and emotional way. If Martin Bell wants to publish his opinion, then he should declare it as such and not confuse it with a professional presentation of the facts.

Cheryl Hudson, 45 Moffat Court, Gap Road, London SW19 8JB

Surely it is a mistake to counterpose "attachment" to "objectivity" as Bell does. People will be in a better position to decide for themselves what is "right" or "wrong" if they are presented with the facts. The danger with the journalism of attachment is that it treats the reader or viewer as someone who needs moral guidance in their interpretation of a war.

Jim Butcher, Institute for German Studies, Birmingham University, Pritchatts Road, Birmingham B15 2TT

I find Martin Bell's high-profile advocacy of "journalism of attachment" deeply frustrating because it inevitably tends to contribute to a moral consensus which stifles critical reporting. British media reports from central Africa almost always framed in a black and white framework of good and evil, have closed down the possibility of questioning - and of understanding and exploring - new dynamics to conflict. Thus in Zaire and Tanzania over one million refugees identified as being "responsible for or complicit in genocide" were forcibly repatriated in most cases against their will. Not only was there no criticism, but the events were hardly reported.

The Something Must Be Done Club represents more the reflexive reaction to brutality on the ground rather than a considered and critical approach to understanding.

John Pender, Flat D, Blackwood, Darkwood Way, Leeds LS17 8AL

I am glad Martin Bell is willing "to shock and disturb" the public "without good-taste censorship" in the interest of the victims of war. As to the "journalism of attachment", however, I believe he would do well to follow the advice of John Delane, sometime editor of the Times, to his great war reporter William Howard Russel: "Tell the truth, as much as it as you can".

The public can then make their own attachments based on all the facts.

Fenno Outen, Room 144, Eva Luckes House, Stepney Way, London E1 2EW

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