Objectivity all at sea
When Diaoyu activists first set off on their self-appointed mission to reclaim the islands for China last September, they were sailing, metaphorically, into unchartered waters. The tragic consequences of that adventure do not need to be retold.
Despite David Chan Yuk-cheung's death, another mission to the islands quickly followed, by which time the venture had become something of a media circus with certain regrettable overtones which must not be repeated.
Protesters who plan to sail to the islands this year are asking journalists wishing to cover the story to pay $20,000 each. They are having difficulty financing the voyage and see the move as an ideal opportunity to raise funds. It is something no newspaper should agree to.
The money is irrelevant. But by paying up, reporters are, in effect, helping sponsor the event. That is not their function. If the protesters are intent on this escapade, their actions will get coverage by whatever means are appropriate, but they cannot be aided or abetted by media involvement.
Last year, because of the emotions unleashed by Chan's death, and due to the cramped conditions on the next boat to sail to the islands, some of the accompanying press corps lost the detachment with which they normally operate. Instead of separate factions involved in different activities, the demarcation lines between the activists and those sent to report on their activities became fudged.
The Hong Kong Journalists' Association pointed out how dangerous it is if reporters become partisan. In a democracy, press objectivity is essential. Reporters must put personal feelings aside and guard against bias. Helping to fund news events is making news, not recording it.