· Vatican City ·

War and the duty to report on it

04 March 2022

Two thousand five hundred years ago Aeschylus said that the first casualty of war is truth. This statement can be repeated for every war that has been fought since then, and the war in Ukraine is no exception. The first casualty is the truth of each individual, of communities, of peaceful coexistence. All have been slaughtered in the name of interests masked by historical and identity-based justifications which, sooner or later, will be unmasked by time and its inexorable judgment. In the meantime, however, people are dying, the innocent are suffering and terror is spreading.

In this tragic situation taking place in the heart of Europe, and even more so in the many wars that are quickly forgotten because they are being fought in areas considered ‘irrelevant’ to geopolitical arrangements, information has a fundamental role to play. This was strikingly recalled last year when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two journalists committed to seeking the truth in dramatically difficult contexts. A war (and its horrors) somehow ‘does not exist’ for the rest of humanity if there is no one to tell the story.

We must therefore be grateful to those journalists who, in these days, keep us informed from Ukraine, even risking their own lives. They tell us about the suffering of the population, giving voice to those who otherwise could not make the world “feel” their pain and despair due to a war that is as senseless as it is ferocious in its effects. “It is essential that journalists are able to continue to work freely and safely and report without hindrance,” stressed ebu, the European Broadcasting Union, which brings together European public radio and television stations. “Supporting media freedom must be a priority”, it added, “not despite these difficult circumstances, but because of them”.

It is not uncommon for reporters in conflict areas to be touched by what they see and hear and to share these emotions in their reports and articles. This does not detract from the quality of their work. Far from it. It is the empathy of those who, while exercising a profession that requires objectivity and a certain ‘detachment’, cannot, and indeed must not, remain indifferent to the suffering and stories of people. Pope Francis has repeatedly recognised this role of journalists, defining it as a “mission” — especially those who “wear out the soles of their shoes” to meet people where and how they are. Sometimes, this mission can cost their lives, as happened to Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered for reporting on the horror of another war, the one in Chechnya. Fifteen years have passed since that murder, but her spirit has not been killed, the spirit that made her say (and bear witness to, with her work) that “a doctor’s job is to heal patients, a journalist’s is to write what he or she sees”.

By Alessandro Gisotti