Debate over M.D. reporters in Haiti continues

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Discussion and debate continues about the ethics of reporters also serving as doctors in Haiti. [Earlier post]

The Washington Post‘s Paul Farhi spoke to some network officials – including Paul Friedman, executive vice president of CBS News, who “says that competitive issues have factored in boosting [Dr. Jennifer] Ashton’s role since [CNN’s Dr. Sanjay] Gupta became a star.”

In Baltimore, The Sun‘s Kelly Brewington posted the question of whether doctors can also be reporters to readers in that paper’s “Picture of Health” blog.. Curtis Brainerd, on the Columbia Journalism Review‘s Web site, wrote about the concerns being raised over the dual roles doctor/reporters are serving in.

Last week, the Society of Professional Journalists released a statement cautioning journalists to not become part of the story. When some people, including new media professor and blogger Jeff Jarvis, interpreted that to mean reporter/doctors should not treat patients, the discussion became more heated. Blogger Tyler Dukes took on Jarvis’ denigration of SPJ’s statement, saying that Jarvis “chose to argue his points with hyperbole and distortion.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation discussed the issue on the Jan. 21 edition of its “As it Happens” show.  [Listen]

On Jan. 27, National Public Radio’s media correspondent David Folkenflik appeared on New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth and talked about how much of a role should a reporter perform in the midst of a story.

Folkenflik, who has spoken to ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser and NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman, says, “The real question is ‘Is it required for them to tell those stories through their own experiences? Are they somehow diverting attention from those who might need it most by focusing their camera and their aid on these, these people and are they in some ways subtley changing the nature of outcomes there?”

Folkenflik says, “Nobody’s saying these people shouldn’t help” but that “The question is ‘Is there any need to keep the camera rolling while they do it?’ I think that’s fundamentally the issue.”

NPR’s On the Media delved into the topic on Jan. 22, with Neal Shapiro, president of WNET Public Television in New York and former president of NBC News; AHCJ member Gary Schwitzer, of the University of Minnesota and publisher of Health News Review; Bob Steele, a journalism ethicist at DePaul University and member of the Poynter Institute’s faculty; and Dr. Bob Arnot, former chief medical correspondent for NBC News.

Arnot, who has intervened medically while on assignment – without the cameras rolling – pinpointed some of the concerns of performing medical procedures on camera:

DR. BOB ARNOT: Look, the real risk is here that your producer calls up and says, hey we just saw the other network’s doctor deliver a baby, could you do an amputation. There’s a real risk that doctors could be pushed into things they shouldn’t be doing because of the pressure of the suits or the producers, to just get better ratings.

BOB GARFIELD: Things they shouldn’t do, he says, such as treating somebody in the street who can just as easily and more safely be attended to at a clinic or hospital, and such as exploiting the pain of an earthquake victim, not to mention the emotions of the audience, for three minutes of drama, genuine or otherwise.

DR. BOB ARNOT: Absolutely, I mean, look-it. If this happened on the streets of New York, do you think you could do that with the current HIPAA regulations? So, sure, you’re potentially exploiting the patient, and you are becoming more of a showman than you are a medical doctor out there.

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