do you hear the beat of a conundrum?

dear fellow students of storytelling,

thank you for visiting

I seek your opinions on a media/journalism issue:

Please make comments on this post.

Below are links to the source articles.

Time is tight:  and if you’d prefer to skip the reading and

  comment ‘in principle’ from the précis below that is OK.

(But if you have the time, it’s an intriguing cycle).

When I have received and clarified your comments, I will synthesise

them into the assignment on another blog.

Almost an aggregation in itself, ja?

The Journalism Issue


Recently the SMH Good Weekend magazine featured a story called ‘Cry, my father’s country.’

The author is freelance journalist Chris Ray. He told of a recent visit by Sydney Journalism student, Reme Sakr, to her father in his Druze homeland, in Syria. She was hoping to convince him to return to Australia. The story is well written, strengthened by vignettes of Syrian life and Sakr’s own childhood memories. The photos illustrate and challenge. It’s style and delivery are typical of Good Weekend and it’s audience offerings (my judgement: educated, broad world-view, not tabloid).

Media Watch took exception to the report: Ray should have disclosed that Sakr was a spokesperson and organiser with Hands Off Syria, and her visit to Syria was mostly concerned with a ‘solidarity’ delegation of Hands Off Syria, Wikileaks and Australian academics to the Syrian government. This mission itself – despite it’s stated aim of being motivated only by the need for communication – received  condemnation in Australia, with suggestions that they were dealing with the proven villains of the Syrian conflict.

Chris Ray felt that Media Watch overlooked valid points. His response letter is published on the MediaWatch site.

The Media Watch critique could be seen to be judging Sakr – the subject of the story – rather than the journalist or the publisher. Sakr tried to respond, but Media Watch relegated her (edited) email  to the general comments, instead of publishing the letter as they would those of a journalist or media organisation. They were also criticised for stating that President Assad is a war criminal, proved by UN reports. The critics of  MW cited UN and other independent reports that showed this to be untrue.

So my questions, for you, dear respondents, concern ethics,

courses of action, decisions, consequences

I invite you to make any comment.

My story grows from your forum like a seedling from dirt.

In the nicest way!


If you like, here are some key words, phrases, points of view:

* Ethical conduct, verification, fact-checking, right of reply, playing the ball, not the man, cultural dimensions, ethnic sensibility, brother’s keeper, apology, clarification, freedom of opinion, democracy

* A freelance journalist with an interest in the middle east pitches a story idea to major newspapers and receives some commissions. He pays for the trip himself and looks after his own application for access. From this he is able to generate at least five separate stories.

* He is later queried about the story by a ‘watch dog’ media show, and answers all questions. The watch-dog goes to air alleging ‘irregularities’ and bias.

* The subject of the story seems to cop the criticism just as badly as the journalist. This isn’t the brief of the show…

* Was is a bad idea not to include a description of why the readers might already have known the subject?

* Or is the story about people?


‘Cry, my father’s country’, Ray, C, 01Mar-14, article, Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald

The spark for the Media Watch flame.

Media Watch: A  Syrian Homecoming, 24Mar-14

(Media Watch take exception to the story, or it’s telling)

Condemnation of Hands Off Syria & Wikileaks’ delegation

Journalist Chris Ray’s first response to Media Watch (before transmission)

Chris Ray’s follow up to Media Watch (after transmission)

Journalist Chris Ray’s report for Crikey

Reme Sakr (subject of article) responds to Media Watch

A 2012  report by Chris Ray on Syria for a USA political magazine






  1. I think this piece was conducted fairly ethically. It says Ray was a freelance journalist, so he would have had to conduct his own journalist research. He also payed for the trip himself and his own application for access, which would assume that he has no reason for unjust bias.

    Using journalist approaches of being personable to the interviewee, he was able to form a connection with Sakr, who felt comfortable enough to tell him some childhood memories, strengthening the story. From this he could create the point of view he wished to take, but in a seemingly unbiased manner.

    The story obviously caused some conflict due to cultural dimensions, as stated about the “dealing with proven villains of the Syrian conflict”. Any news articles and journalistic jobs involving the middle east, and specially Syria in this case are going to arise conflicts and queries in the West, as we are not fully aware of their customs and practices, and we do things differently.

  2. thank you for the comprehensive comment. Does the situation make you worry about perceptions of your own future work? You mentioned to me that working from a war zone – discovering, raising awareness, writing about what newspapers don’t tell – could be something you might aim for. So if you were accused of non-disclosure, bias, by someone not as well informed…How do you defend yourself?

  3. As with any story, it is difficult to fully attain all ‘sides’.

    Some information may not necessarily be ‘overlooked’, but, rather, deemed unnecessary for the particular piece being written. Journalists may wish to focus on one particular aspect for their story. I suppose there can be ethical concerns amongst this – the main thing is to address that there are other factors coming into play, so the audience is aware.

    My understanding of ‘Good Weekend’ is that it IS more about people, and less about hardcore journalism reports, so I think this needs to be taken into account when examining the whole situation that has risen from this article.

    Really, you have to take anything you hear/see/read with a grain of salt. While bias may not be overwhelmingly present in any piece of writing, it is written by a certain person who will inevitably be shaped by their own experiences, which will be reflected in their work.

    I hope these comments are slightly relevant.

      1. I’m not planning to go into journalism any more. I suppose I never really was, but decided to do the degree because I didn’t see creative writing (my other degree) as a good financial plan. But this semester, I have learnt that journalism, too, may not be so good in the future, AND that creative writing and editing is pursue-able.

        So I would like to do freelance creative writing and editing. Though, sometimes I like writing about issues I feel passionately about, so who knows – maybe I’ll have a blog or contribute to a magazine or online site.

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