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Physician-journalists and the line between participant and observer

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The debate over whether physicians working for television networks can ethically treat patients while reporting on the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake continues.

Today primary care doctor and blogger Kevin Pho, MD, offered his perspective, writing:

Given the scope of the medical need in Haiti, dropping the microphone and jumping into the fray to help wounded people is admirable. But doing so as a journalist also raises ethical concerns and charges of self-promotion.

I think it’s best that physician-correspondents who want to help, function solely as doctors in Haiti and be relieved of their journalistic role in order to remove any appearance of exploitation.

The Society of Professional Journalists has urged all reporters covering the relief efforts in Haiti to avoid bidding for news, conflicts of interest and blurring the lines between being a participant and being an objective observer. SPJ president Kevin Smith said in a recent release:

No one wants to see human suffering, and reporting on these events can certainly take on a personal dimension. But participating in events, even with the intention of dramatizing the humanity of the situation, takes news reporting in a different direction and places journalists in a situation they should not be in, and that is one of forgoing their roles as informants.

A current ReachMD poll on the topic finds that 82 percent of voters believe physician-journalists are obligated to devote themselves entirely to medicine during a crisis.

Photo by Alex S

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