Ethics in Conflict is the result of a partnership between the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Centre for Media Transition, University of Technology, Sydney.
The International Committee of the Red Cross employs 20,000 staff in 100 countries with 1 humanitarian mission: to uphold International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and protect and assist people affected by conflict and violence. Communication from the field generates vital support for aid programs, but it also carries an ethical responsibility that shifts with changing geopolitical and media landscapes.
The Centre for Media Transition is uniquely placed to research these challenges as an interdisciplinary initiative exploring news media regulation, press freedom, news media best practice, and new business models for journalism.
By sharing insights into ethical decision-making in conflict reporting, we hope to improve how journalists and aid professionals tell meaningful stories using safe, effective and respectful methods.
Monica is a Professor of Journalism Practice and co-director of the Centre for Media Transition at UTS. Previously, she was Head of Journalism at UTS. She has been awarded the Order of Australia for services to journalism and is the winner of five Walkley Awards, including gold, for excellence in journalism. She was the ABC’s Russia correspondent charting the collapse of Soviet communism and the rise of capitalism, covering eight civil wars across the old Soviet Union. She is the author of Russia, Which Way Paradise.
ICRC Head of Mission
As the Head of Mission, David leads a team that works closely with government, military, diplomatic and academic stakeholders to foster support for the ICRC’s global operations and to promote international humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles. David holds a LL.M. in International Humanitarian Law from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, a Bachelor of Laws (Hons.) and Bachelor of Asian Studies (specialist in Hindi) from the Australian National University.
Sacha is a Lecturer at the Centre for Media Transition at UTS, where his work spans media, law and ethics. His book Net Privacy, How we can be free in an age of surveillance (2020), spells out ethical and legal solutions to the challenge of digital privacy by taking Kantian ethics as its starting point. His research also covers the news media bargaining code, and trust and news media. Previously, he worked for two decades with The Sydney Morning Herald, including as an editor and senior features writer.
Chrisanthi is Lecturer in Journalism at the University of South Australia and former Centre for Media Transition Postdoctoral Fellow. She was a reporter and deputy editor in Australia and in the UK and ran her own entrepreneurial journalism project, reporting from ten African countries, while travelling from Cairo to Cape Town by public transport. Her research focuses on the methods and ethics of reporting from refugee camps. She is the author of Borderland: Decolonizing the words of war (2022).
In August 2021, the CMT conducted in-depth interviews with six Australian reporters and photojournalists – Kate Geraghty, Stan Grant, Sophie McNeill, Richard Murray, Gary Ramage and Ginny Stein – about their ethical decision-making when reporting from conflict zones.
The second stage of the project involved a more free-flowing and public symposium covering the ethics of reporting in conflict zones and how this vital public sphere work intersects with the law and with humanitarian goals. Held on a virtual conference platform on Friday, September 17, 2021, the symposium included opening remarks by the ICRC’s David Tuck, a keynote address from Sophie McNeill, and two panel sessions featuring journalists, academics and lawyers. The first focused on journalistic practice; and the second focused on theoretical and legal issues.
The project team interviewed six Australian journalists covering conflict.
The role of a foreign correspondent – broadly defined to cover both those posted to a country and those who are less permanent – includes observing and reporting human catastrophe. Then the reporter or photojournalist leaves. Reporting practices are often respectful, protective of the identity of people who may suffer consequences and observant of local custom. Sometimes, however, they are not.
In looking to the motivations for decision-making in the field, we aimed to shed light on how reporters and photojournalists reflect on their practices in the moment, as they confront the challenges of ‘bearing witness’ to conflict.
Kate Geraghty, Sydney Morning Herald Photojournalist
It’s about respect. Ninety-nine percent of photojournalists who work in this environment have the same ethics. We come from all different countries around the world but have the same code. The hairs on your skin stand up. You have to do it justice, you have to get it so right because it’s so important, because there is an audience back home that will look at this. The responsibility crackles.
Stan Grant, ABC Reporter and Commentator
For most of my career, I think I’ve abided by some really strong ethical codes around people’s dignity, their right to privacy, the permission that is needed in doing anything. A lot of this comes from my own background, being an Aboriginal person. I know the extent to which our own privacy, our own dignity, has been trashed by media in Australia.
Sophie McNeill, Human Rights Watch Australia Researcher
If you act ethically right, or if you always do what feels right, then you can keep doing this work. Because if you don’t, that’s what haunts you, and that’s what gives you PTSD...I didn’t do formal journalism training. I don’t know how you’re supposed to do it. I don’t know what the rules are supposed to be. I just did what felt right.'
Richard Murray, Former Journalist and Academic
This whole idea of full objectivity, that you’re somehow just a fly on the wall … I always used to hide behind this idea of political economy. I was interested in who was pulling the strings. I was interested in descriptions of weaponry. I was interested in, you know, the size of a military force. Looking back, these were things that didn’t really matter. What matters is people’s stories.
Gary Ramage, News Corp Photojournalist
What you have to have is at least some sort of personal discipline. You’ve got to try and fit in to a certain degree, you don’t want to go to these places and be a burden on the soldiers. Because that happened to me when I was a serving member of the military, we’d have journalists turn up, who didn’t have a bloody clue about anything.
Ginny Stein, Former Foreign Correspondent
It’s hard because you had good managers who would care about people, and you also had managers who didn’t care. And it could go either way, I guess. But now, no one cares. They’re just following … the rules.