Can we call him an “unprofessional hero”?


After a number of uncomforting facts about the downfall of media institutions affected by economic crisis, the record of international journalism this year is ended spectacularly by the shoe incident. The shoe throwing to George W. Bush by journalist Muntazer Al-Zaidi has ignited debate and controversy among the press practitioners and the media consumers. Some people dubbed him “a patriotic hero”, while others simply labeled him “unprofessional”. Can we call him the “unprofessional hero” of our time?

Indeed, throwing shoes to your source, regardless his position, is an act of rudeness. But a mailing list writer sarcastically commented: “Indeed, civilized people do not throw shoes. They drop bombs.” Al-Zaidi’s anger is widely accepted. Journalists are human being. They have emotions too. There are other kinds of emotions that journalists have expressed this last decade: smiling and laughing at funny news during presenting, crying at tragedy and disaster during reporting. So, what’s the difference? If a journalist is allowed to look happy or to be sad, why can’t he be angry?

But of course, there are other ways of expressing angers. Martin Bell of BBC had introduced the concept of Journalism of Attachment in the 2000s, opening possibility for journalists to be subjective and attached to their coverage. But what he meant by Journalism of Attachment did not include committing violent acts.

As BBC reporter, Martin Bell has a lot of war experiences: from the Falkland war to Bosnian war, from the Gulf to Israel-Palestine. His experiences formed his concept of new kind of journalism, the Journalism of Attachment. Its principle is: it is okay to be attached. It is understandable that it is hard to be objective and detached when covering war/conflict. His path is followed by many other journalists, one of them is Robert Fisk (the Independent), which later founded “Mouse Journalism”. This is a way of covering conflicts in dangerous area. You act like a mouse: appear five minutes, make a few snapshots, and disappear before you get caught by the army.

When I entered TV journalism in 1990 (in SCTV Surabaya), I learned that presenters and reporters should be cold and plain. No emotion. No subjectivity. This was broken in 2004 when Metro TV reporter (Najwa Shihab) reported Tsunami from Aceh, crying and sobbing all the way, stopping sometimes in the middle of reporting live.

In fact, who is not attached to what he/she covers? Do we really believe that the press is neutral? Every media institution, every journalist, has a perspective. The nature of their job is to select facts, sources, and quotes, due to limitation of space and duration. The key question is: which facts or sources do they choose? It is their independent and free choice. They take side.

Muntazer Al-Zaidi might have his own perspective, based on his personal observation and experience. He might have just expressed his opinion or feeling. Unfortunately, he did it violently and unprofessionally. The big question for future journalism is: what is the limit to your emotion when practicing journalism? What is the limit of attachment? What reasons can be tolerated? Is what Bush did in Iraq is a good reason to tolerate Al-Zaidi? If a journalist is voicing the voiceless and supported by the community he represents, can he be detained and punished? Or, shall he be pardoned?

Since George W. Bush just gave him a mocking laugh, it would be hypocritical if he is detained and tortured behind Bush’s back. The international media community is now waiting for what is going to happen to the shoe thrower. I personally wish for his health and freedom.

Sirikit Syah, The Jakarta Post

The writer is a media watch activist, founder and director of LKM-Media Watch based in Surabaya


Perihal LKM Media Watch
Mass media are watchdogs. But who watch the media? Let's do it together. Watch this very powerful entity, for better journalism, better Indonesia, better world.

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