two sides of a coin
Credit: By Jamie McCaffrey on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

In certain parts of the world such as Ukraine or Egypt where journalists may have been forced to adopt political positions, remaining impartial when reporting the news can be a difficult job.

This was the opening remark of Christiane Amanpour CBE, chief international correspondent for CNN, chairing a panel at the Kurt Schork Memorial Fund Awards in London last week.

Stephen Sackur, host of the BBC's HARDTalk, agreed there was a "huge difficulty in getting to the truth" but said there was no room for journalists to take sides.

"From time to time journalists are forced into positions where they cannot do what I think journalists simply have to do which is try to be objective, impartial truth-tellers," he said.

"To me the idea of taking sides is that you throw in your lot with a particular position, and that once you have done that... in a sense you then become somebody who is prejudging, who has a position which the facts will then be fitted to support."

While it may be difficult for reporters in certain countries to get to the truth, he said, "journalists are not in the business of taking sides".

Peter Bale, former managing editor of CNN International, said that his view as "an ancient Reuters correspondent" was "very much on the side of impartiality".

If you don't care you shouldn't do this job.Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4
"[But] once you support the underdog in the conflicts that are happening now, you've taken a side," he added, citing the reporting of the Gaza-Israel conflict as an example.

"Once you report, for example, the war of the fourth largest army against a bunch of guerrillas effectively in an urban environment you've taken a side and that's certainly... the way the audience are seeing it."

However, Sackur said that in his opinion, reporting on stories in this manner can impact the way a journalist's work is perceived.

"If you say as part of your reporting, 'I'm on a side here, I have a side, I know who the underdog is and I'm rooting for that underdog', you undermine the power and the importance of your own journalism. I don't know why you would do that."

Channel 4's international editor Lindsey Hilsum said highlighting the killing of children in Palestine while reporting on Gaza was not a matter of taking sides in the conflict.

"In Gaza I have no problem that we are on the side of the kids who were killed. You know what, that's not difficult. But that doesn't mean we're on the side of Hamas."

In July, a YouTube video was published in which Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow called on viewers to join forces to help children in Gaza, raising the question of just how much personal emotion reporters should show their audiences.

Video from Channel 4 News on YouTube.

"If you don't care you shouldn't do this job," said Hilsum.

"You have to reflect the emotion of the situation around you. You're in Libya in the middle of a revolution [for example], you're not taking sides, but you do have to reflect the excitement."

However, the problem was an "over-interest in emotion" from the audience, she said. As journalists in general introduce more emotion into their reporting to make the news less 'dry', people have become less interested in journalism which presents only facts.

"It's been overdone, it's too much sugar," Hilsum added.

But how can a journalist determine the truth when there are differences or perspective and culture? Amanpour said an "objective truth" can be found in every context.

"I'm not a pundit, I operate in the realm of fact," she said.

"And it's true that you don't always find the truth immediately and you can spend a long time searching for the full truth."

Freelance journalist Kurt Schork was killed while reporting from Sierra Leone in 2000, and the annual Kurt Schork Memorial Fund Awards recognise remarkable freelance and local journalists.

This year's winners were Neha Dixit (local reporter), Matthieu Aikins (freelance), and Priyanka Dubey (special recognition award).

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