[SUNDAY FEATURE] Q&A with journalist Christiane Amanpour

First hired by CNN in the ‘80s, Amanpour says she’s as inspired as ever in her work. But with today’s fast-paced 24-hour news cycle, downtime is rare. “An off day is a bit of a luxury,” she says.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen | Arizona Daily Star: Your motto, I guess you could call it, is “Truthful, not neutral.” Could you explain that a bit to a lay audience and what you mean by it and how that in how viewers might see that in your journalism?

Christiane Amanpour: Well, I think that perhaps viewers, and maybe a lot of journalists, confuse the idea of objectivity with neutrality and therefore so much journalism, as you can see today particularly on broadcast mediums, is very much ‘He said or she said on the one hand, and on the other hand’ — without actually recognizing where the actual truth and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence lies.

You know, it doesn’t apply to every single issue, but certain very important issues you actually have to be truthful and not neutral because if you draw a false equivalence, whether on fact or morality, then you’re not telling the truth and in terrible instances, you could be accomplice to the continuing atrocity.

For instance, I learned this when I first started to work in Bosnia and what I was seeing during the wars that lasted the entire 1990s. There was one side, which happened to be the Serb side, powered by the dictator of Serbia, who were white Christians, ethnically cleansing a part of Europe of white Muslims.

They wanted to create a pure white Serbian state for themselves. And this is classic genocide. It’s killing and transporting a people based on their ethnicity and their religion, and I had to recognize that and made many people uncomfortable.

They said, “Oh, but you know, she’s taking sides.” I wasn’t. I was telling the absolute truth: that there were victims and there were aggressors and people had to recognize it.

It actually did demand some action on behalf of our governments and our democratic world, which did come, but it came very late.

So now fast forward to issues like the climate crisis that we’re in right now. It is a real crisis that has been, to an extent, exacerbated and all the solutions have been slow down by a false narrative that has been perpetrated, obviously by lobbyists in the fossil fuel and other industries, but also because journalists have not recognized that they had to be truthful about this and not neutral.

Instead of trying to say, “There’s the science that shows us clearly that we human beings are contributing to carbon emissions’” journalists were trying to equate that with the tiny minority of climate change deniers and people who refuse to accept the science — and they were a tiny minority compared to the overwhelming evidence that was scientifically proved as fact.

So, I think that those two examples show you that in extreme cases when a journalist is not truthful and does not recognize what is staring them in the face then that journalist can be an accomplice to a very negative impact on our world and on our lives.


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September 2019