13 March 2009

Whose Jobs Are More Important? And What Is Our Role In Reporting?

The News Blog received an email this week about a report filed by VOA’s UN correspondent Margaret Besheer from Port-au-Prince, Haiti where she accompanied UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former US President Bill Clinton on brief visit.

Unemployment is rampant in Haiti, the 14th poorest country in the world, and Mr. Ban said what the impoverished Caribbean nation needs most is jobs. Ms. Besheer reported the two men visited a T-shirt factory where Mr. Clinton said the owner told him he employs 3,000 workers, but, if his operating costs were lower, he could increase that to 10,000.

Our email writer said she was a garment worker in York, Pennsylvania. (Our audiences are outside the United States, but our website can be accessed from almost any location in the world.) She said she was about to lose her job. She told the News Blog that “an investor is interested in buying into the company but guess what he wants to do? Take our jobs to Haiti.”

She went on: “While I realize the need in Haiti, what about the need here? There are about 250 of us and no one seems to care that we are losing our jobs.” The emailer also said she had heard garment workers in Haiti experienced what she described as “horrific working conditions.”

She then asked, “Is this what you are condoning? To me, your [report] is further encouraging companies to leave the US for Haiti.”

First of all, we’d like to say that by reporting on something, we are not condoning anything. Nor do we consider that by reporting on any topic, we are encouraging anyone to do anything. We don’t approve of genocide nor would we ever encourage bloodshed, but that doesn’t mean, for example, that we as journalists can ignore stories about Darfur.

The purpose of reporting is to inform, so those receiving information -- like our email writer -- can make their own judgments and, if they choose, voice their own opinions. That is why we believe a free press is essential to democracy.

One thing we can do is report on the problems facing people like the garment worker in Pennsylvania. We have passed her email on to our Central News Division for a possible story for our global audience on the economic challenges she is dealing with.

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