Testing boundaries – scenario

All the scenarios on Media Helping Media are based on actual events.

Image by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre released via Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0
Image by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre released via Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0

As one of the editors of a government radio news service in a developing democracy you receive information of an imminent threat of famine in a rural area of the country.

You are told that, unless immediate action is taken by the government and the international community, thousands of people are likely to die in the next few months.

You know that the government is aware of the situation but would rather not publicise the threatened famine in the hope that it passes unnoticed, as it has often done in the past.

In a recent visit to the famine-threatened region you saw thousands of tonnes of grain being readied for export to foreign markets by remote merchants.

Your research uncovered that these same merchants are known to have financed the mechanised farming of grain in the famine-threatened region.

The grain they harvest, you discovered, is largely intended for export to countries which are known to provide financial aid to your national government.

As you consider what to do, a written press release arrives on your desk from a commissioner of the famine-threatened region, pleading for immediate assistance.

The press release was sent to you specifically in the hope that you would broadcast the information.

You suspect that if you seek clearance from “above” to publish the information your request will either be refused, delayed, or will possibly disappear altogether.

As a result, the available grain will likely be exported and the famine will possibly take its toll.

If you allow the information to be broadcast, and point out the availability of the grain destined for export out of the region, it may shame the government into doing something, such as putting an embargo on the exportation of the grain from the region.

However, broadcasting the information could put your job at risk.

What do you do?

  1. Refer the matter up to senior editors and government officials and try to persuade them that broadcasting the information is in the public interest and that, as a news outlet serving a community at risk, you have a duty of care to share what you know.
  2. Broadcast the information without ‘referring up’ because you fear you will be blocked, and you consider it is more important to save lives than save your career.
  3. Don’t broadcast, but instead pass the information on to a foreign correspondent or foreign media outlet which you trust in the hope that they will circulate the information.
  4. Ignore the story, aware that this is probably happening in many other countries and whatever you do will make no difference.


How a journalist responds to such a situation will differ from country to country and culture to culture. There is no easy answer here. However, in the scenario set out above the journalist decided on option 2.

They went ahead and broadcast the information they had without ‘referring up’ because they feared they would be blocked, and they considered it to be more important to save lives than save their career.

After the information had been broadcast they received a stern telling off, but kept their job.

And as a result of the information being broadcast on the government radio channel the authorities announced an embargo on the exportation of grain until enough was available for the hungry in the region.

All the scenarios on Media Helping Media are based on actual events.