A journalist’s role in societies in conflict transition | Sunday Observer

A journalist’s role in societies in conflict transition

Christine Karren Williams
Christine Karren Williams

“Journalists who interview traumatised people traumatise them again,” said South African Human Rights Activist and journalist Christine Karren Williams addressing journalists who attended a two-day workshop themed ‘Media’s responsibility in the Transition’ (or how media should report during the period when Transitional Justice is taking place) which was organised by the Institute of Social Development (ISD) in partnership with the Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (ICSC) and the Sri Lanka College of Journalism (SLCJ) held at the Colombo Hilton.

Karren made these comments while discussing basic interview techniques that should be practised when interviewing survivors or victims for human rights based stories. Sharing her experience as an activist and journalist who has been working with and interviewing people whose basic human rights had been violated in more ways than one, Williams said that people who have been traumatised will talk about what happened to other people rather than talk about themselves.

“Once I was speaking to a person from a village where the majority of people were massacred and burnt alive. This person related how the army of that country murdered villagers including children and threw them in to a fire.

Later, when the person was asked about family it was revealed that he had two brothers and only on being asked once again about their whereabouts was it revealed that they too had been thrown into the fire as well” she said.

“It is important that a journalist always comes to an agreement with interviewee of what material or pictures would be published and stick to that agreement under any circumstances. “Earn their trust, never react to what is revealed and always thank the subject for speaking to you,” she added.

The welcome address at the event was made by the Head of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism Shan Wijethunge, while the Introductory Address was made by a former journalist, Periyasami Muthulingam the Executive Director of the Institute of Social Development (ISD).

A three-member panel comprising the Director General of the Government Information Department, Sudarshana Gunawardena and senior journalists M. Vithyaharan and Shamindra Ferdinando discussed the theme ‘Sri Lanka in Transition’.

The workshop was attended by around 30 journalists and news editors of print, electronic and web media institutions based in Colombo and the region.