Picture this: it’s 7pm. The news begins. There’s the jingle, a few stories about Australian political goings-on, then a piece about a war-torn country overseas. What do you see? A foreign correspondent, flak jacket on, standing in a bombed-out street or a hospital ward full of bloodied bodies. They speak for a few minutes, describing the horror. The news moves on. We go back to our lives. But what happens next for the reporter?
The role of a war correspondent is an ethically ambiguous one. Journalists aren’t in a combat zone to fight, or to provide medical assistance or humanitarian aid. They cannot help in any practical sense: they are there to ‘bear witness’, to observe and report back. Their purpose is as a conduit: to see some of the most horrific scenes imaginable and to make them palatable. They sanitise the story so that those watching at home can understand a situation, without the emotional cost of knowing what it truly feels like to be there.