FROM CATASTROPHE TO TV

About the difficulties of covering individual stories in the media

Journalists gather at the Palestinian children's arrival in Dusseldorf. Picture: Mathias Hoffmann

At Friedensdorf, children hardly ever watch television.

News about the world’s wars and crises should certainly not be part of any child's tv-programme. The boys and girls are here in order to get well and to be children. Growing up is something they will have to do soon enough once they return to their home countries. Nevertheless: Had Thaer – one of the 42 injured children of the first Gaza support operation – watched the news in mid-January, his eyes would have gone as wide as the marbles children at Friedensdorf love to play with the whole year round.

„I’m on television!“,

his eyes would have declared and maybe so would his mouth, for the 9-year-old has picked up some German since his arrival.

And what would Thaer’s friends at Friedensdorf have thought about his TV-appearance?

Surely they would have been happy for him, for the principle of sharing is engraved in the fundamental values of Friedensdorf.

 

Unified through the fear and distress they have experienced in their home countries, the children support one another. Throughout the often long and painful path to recovery they become friends. They are happy for each other when they have finally managed to make it onto the list of children ready to return to their families. But within this genuine happiness there is sometimes also the understandable pain if one is not able to return oneself. Something similar would happen in case of a television report. On the one hand, the other children would feel happy for Thaer. On the other, the question would linger:

Why not me? Is my story not worth being told?

No Preferences

The Friedensdorf's message to the kids is clear: you are all equal and equally important! Opposed to that there is the silent message of the cameras focussing on individual children, conveying: you are something special. Although this is understandable from a media perspective, it results in an omnipresent difficulty.

How much coverage do we allow in order to inform the public about the fate of these children and ways to support them while at the same time protecting their privacy and ensuring equal treatment?

This is a question that is asked and discussed over and over again by the aid organization. Even though the above mentioned scenario of the children watching the report about Thaer is inaccurate, and even though Thaer never feels like a "star" and disturbs peace in the community, it pushes the concept of the Friedensdorf to the brink of trustworthiness – both towards itself and the public.

The fate of the children is not sold to the media, this is inarguable.

Therefore, Friedensdorf is quite aware of the fact that individual coverage is difficult. Pity provoking dramatization of the childrens’ stories is explicitly unwanted.

In the Friedensdorf Report from October of last year we reported in-depth on our Gaza support operation.

Great resonance

The news report of "Tagesthemen", which surely does not belong to the aforementioned category, has had an enormous resonance in the public. On the broadcasting company’s Facebook site, the clip was clicked almost 100.000 times, shared hundreds of times and controversially discussed.

Most people were touched, expressed support and wanted to help. Few criticized that Thaer’s father did not come to Germany as well. This is an understandable reaction and only the people who know the work of Friedensdorf well will appreciate that there are hundreds of stories like that of the small boy from Gaza and that the company of parents is simply impossible.

Would that make sense? The children at Friedensdorf can deal with being here on their own and put all their efforts into recovering quickly in order to be able to return home. Just like the "famous" child now, who has impressed staff and volunteers at Friedensdorf with his positive energy and will to live.

 

The question of authenticity or
„rather boring than unreliable“

The fact that the aid for the children from Gaza brought about so much media attention has two main reasons: On the one hand, it is the fact that the Bavarian broadcasting company’s charity "Sternstunden" spontaneously agreed to pay for the flight. Thus, they once again proved a reliable supporter of Friedensdorf. On the other hand, the situation in the Near East also plays a big role. For the conflict is a current one drawing worldwide attention. The question is, for how long? Friedensdorf casts a critical eye on this.

One asset of the charity is the continuous and reliable way in which it supports children from war-torn and crisis-stricken countries. This is important for people in Afghanistan, Angola and in other areas of crisis. From the media’s perspective, it is exactly this point that makes the Friedensdorf less interesting: Many newsrooms view the topics connected to the Friedensdorf’s work as repetitive and boring. However, the fate and drama that the kids from Gaza are going through does not differ in any way from the experiences of other children at Friedensdorf.

With this in mind, the stories of all children at Friedensdorf are worth telling, and therefore should remain untold as a result of their abundance and the principle of fairness. It is a dilemma that can only be faced with self-reflection and dialogue with media representatives, in order to solve it from case to case.

Article translated from German by volunteer Chrysante Iliakis – 
IB student at International School Dusseldorf

 

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