Lynne Doucet, talking at the Edinburgh International Television Conference, gave a speech on the complexities of reporting in Afghanistan. She lamented that she was unable to convey the complexities of the conflict or the perspective of the Taliban factions. Whilst some may view this as a criticism of television reporting in general, snippets of her speech show the quest for impartiality. Let us consider what she says within that framework.
Doucet wishes to show the motives and perceptions of the Afghan population, yet uses the term Taliban rather than Afghan: her true target is those who resist, not those who support:
“What’s lacking in the coverage of the Afghans is the sense of the humanity of the Afghans.
“In the Prince Harry coverage for example, there were all these people out there you never really saw them.
“You knew that the bombs were dropping in that direction and the guns pointing in that direction but you never got a sense of how Afghans are as a people.”
In further detail, she notes the factionalism of the Taliban, yet does not move beyond her original goal of giving the opponents a voice or conveying their ‘humanity’. Doucet understands that part of her moral mission is to explain the complexities of the conflict, but her method is to give the mic to the other side.
Her impartiality is already flawed by her admission that journalists in Afghanistan support the troops through coverage of the Prince Harry mission:
Canadian-born Doucet said: “It probably did bring a lot of people to think about Afghanistan who normally wouldn’t ordinarily think about Afghanistan. If the Prince Harry story can bring more people to think about Afghanistan then that’s a good thing.
“There was a lost opportunity. There was hardly any mention of Afghans, even of Afghanistan … (just a) sense of ‘I went to a country far away’.
But she added: “Viewing figures went up, Prince Harry got a hero’s welcome and recruitment for the British Army went up so an objective was achieved. Did that mean people knew more about why Britain was there? I don’t think so.
Doucet wishes to be the gatekeeper for explaining the conflict: living up to her perceived concept of impartiality by maintaining a position of neutrality and providing access to all parties fighting in Afghanistan. But her freedom to report is bounded by the protection that the Western forces provide: the Taliban would neither respect her as a woman or as a non-Muslim. Without this understanding of her own limited freedom of movement, she is unable to provide a rounded understanding of the limits to reporting in Afghanistan.
Journalists find that they are unable to report voices where values are incommensurable and their own position is at risk, since they are viewed as the enemy. Underneath all the verbiage, Doucet’s unspoken lament is that the Taliban consider her the enemy too, when all she wishes to do is understand them. Poor lamb.