Poll: Journalism ethics for physicians reporting from Haiti

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, the role of physician-journalists have come under scrutiny.

After the quake, the major television networks sent their doctor-reporters to the region, and allowed them to assist with Haitians needing medical attention. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta treated a 15-day old baby with a head laceration on camera, while NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman has splinted broken bones, and ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser helped a woman deliver a premature baby.

Journalists normally distance themselves from the news in order to ensure fair and unbiased reporting. Should physicians reporting from Haiti be held to the same standard?

Involving these doctors in the story can obscure independent observation essential to accurate reporting. Worse, some ethicists think there is an implicit marketing component, as television networks continually replay these doctors’ heroic actions for their audiences.

The networks say these emotional segments bring a human element that straight reporting cannot capture. And the physician correspondents say the Hippocratic Oath trumps their role as a journalist.

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.

I encourage you to listen and vote in this week’s poll, located both below, and in the upper right column of the blog.