Objectivity in conflict reporting

Michael Carabott

War correspondence is regarded by many journalists to be the pinnacle of the profession. It is one of the most exciting, dangerous and responsible assignments that a journalist can be given.

With it comes a great deal of responsibility, sadness, desensitisation and, at times, the temptation to lose one’s sense of objectivity.

destroyed tank

A bombed out tank destroyed by Libyan freedom fighters

In 2011, I was sent to cover the aftermath of the Libyan uprising against Muammar Gaddafi for a newspaper I was working with at the time.

Gaddafi had been killed just days before and fighting was still raging on the streets in part of the country.

Heading into the conflict zone, I felt I was well prepared and steeled myself for what lay ahead.


The author with a freedom fighter from Tripoli

Tripoli was still celebrating, and it was easy to remain objective in interviewing rebels, militia commanders and residents about their experience.

But then we moved to Misurata, a port that took the brunt of Gaddafi’s onslaught. The bombed-out buildings, injured fighters and scenes of all-round destruction starkly contrasted against the people’s high spirits.

When we began the interviews, it was hard to hold back the feelings of bias in reporting the story. This is something that happens to many reporters on the job in conflict zones.

Misurata damage

The damage caused to a house in Misurata by Gaddafi’s troops

Seeing the horrific destruction, hearing people’s stories and experiencing the carnage with one’s own eyes against a backdrop of such optimism, I thought there was a bright future for Libya.


Libyan children celebrating our visit. They would be young adults today if they are still alive

And that is where my objectivity let me down. I believed Libya would shape up and build from scratch, but it was institutionally devoid of any rule of law and in a power vacuum. I predicted a bright future for the oil-rich nation, but in hindsight I was wrong.

missing posters

Just some of the thousands of Libyans who went missing or were killed in the Libyan uprising

The Arab Spring soured, and Libya is as close as it ever was to all-out civil war as Benghazi and Tripoli continue to squabble over arguments that date back to before King Idris’ time.


The Malta Independent

The Malta Independent (b)

One News 

Objectivity and Balance in Conflict Reporting (PG 34) – Huong Thu Thi Vu University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Rethinking Objectivity – Brent Cunningham – Columbia Journalism Review

Al Jazeera News



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