By Casey Bukro
A certain kind of ethics trap awaits many journalists, if they have not blundered into it already in their careers.
It starts with somebody warning the media in advance that he will do something life-threatening, and inviting coverage of the event.
Sometimes the media responds by saying, “let’s see if he does it,” without giving it further thought.
The Global Times reported such as case, in which a South Korean man jumped off a bridge after announcing the day before that he planned to do that. A South Korean TV station sent a crew to the scene, according to the Global Times, and recorded the man’s leap. As of recent reports, his body had not been recovered.
Then, as often happens, journalists are asked why they did not try to stop the man. Failure to do so is punishable by up to 10 years in jail, under South Korean law. Reporters said they arrived at the scene too late to stop the man, and that they had earlier reported the man’s threat to police.
Sometimes reporters will say they do not want to interfere with a story. Sometimes they say they had no reason to believe the man would carry out his threat. Sometimes they want the drama to play out so they can get a story, although they might never admit that.
But when the worst happens, attention turns to the conduct of the media and the logical question — why didn’t they try to prevent harm?
As a result, journalists are seen as heartless and cruel. And they are left with trying to explain what they did or did not do. Anyone caught in this kind of dilemma knows how it feels to be caught in a sudden inquisition. It’s a mistake you don’t make twice.