The problem with Amanpour

Amanpour is a heavily decorated journalist, and something of an ornament to her new employers.

Avirook Sen March 21, 2011

As the subcontinent remained glued to its television sets watching the cricket World Cup, the world’s focus shifted last week from the civil war in Libya to the tsunami in Japan. You can always tell when such a shift takes place: Christiane Amanpour begins a new series of reports, either from the ground or from the air.

Amanpour is a heavily decorated journalist, and something of an ornament to her new employers, ABC, where she hosts “This Week”. She is also a role model for every second broadcast journalist near you. But I am not a fan.

This isn’t because I’m not a broadcast journalist. It is because Amanpour’s reports often strike me as less about the subject at hand than about herself.

There is something cringe-inducing about opening a show on a country visited by one of the worst tragedies the world has seen with: ‘This week, disaster in Japan as my team and I…”

“My team and I”! Two personal pronouns in the first ten words did it for me as I watched the show on the BBC (with whom ABC has a tie-up). But they kept on coming.

Soon there was: “My team and I went up North…” followed within minutes by: “My team and I took a helicopter tour…”

“My team” and “I”, along with the occasional “we” were all over the report. And over parts of Japan, surveying a “calamity of biblical proportions”.

I have absolutely no problems with helicopter surveys. If wealthy western networks can afford to send up journalists to get footage that gives us a sense of the scale of an event, then this can only be a good thing.

It is the undermining of that scale by prefacing everything with ‘I was there’, which I have a problem with. Firstly, no matter how good a journalist or a ‘team’ is, it cannot be everywhere. If we look at reports coming out of Japan, a lot of footage is shared; in this instance, one of the chief providers is Japan’s government broadcaster NHK. This is a standard — and healthy — practice. Television newsrooms around the world are trained to repurpose footage received from sources including their own to make comprehensive packages for their viewers.

This is especially true in the coverage of natural disasters. Nature doesn’t give exclusives. It is generally understood that the journalist reporting from a disaster zone is in it. You don’t need constant reminders of this; you need the story.

When Amanpour gives us the priceless piece of information, in the same programme, that a colleague had actually reached Sendai “when we were up in the air” (in the chopper), she does the opposite. And I, for one, wonder: How does it matter to me whether you are up in the air or undersea? You are not even filing the report, someone on the ground is.

You cannot help but contrast this to how the Japanese — an entire nation — have shelved the personal pronoun. How they have approached the disaster collectively. Nobody in a mile-long queue for drinking water has been reported to have said “I was there first”. In shelters, where there are too many mouths and too few bowls of soup, people are sacrificing theirs, so others, who are hungrier, may be fed. No one is looting stores like they did in New Orleans after Katrina.

This stoicism narrative has been a cliche about Japan, and has been pointed out as such even during the current crisis. All the talk of ‘gaman’ (patience/endurance of suffering), the culture of resignation to fate, or ‘shikata ga nai’ (we have no choice/nothing can be done about it), make the Japanese sound like a programmed people. (They are not; there is corruption and crime in the highest, lowest and most sacred places in Japanese society: from politics, the street, to sumo wrestling.) Watching them conduct themselves in the aftermath of the tsunami, however, you cannot help but admire the programme — if there is one.

You might have thought that covering the tsunami would be a humbling experience, something that makes you set the ‘I’ aside for half an hour. But Amanpour is programmed differently. And seems to have influenced a whole generation of megalomaniacal TV journalists even in our neighbourhood. This is why I am not a fan.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2011.


Sonya Rehman | 12 years ago | Reply Mr. Sen, I really don't understand the point of your tirade. When a journalist - whether broadcast or print - injects himself/herself into a news story, it gives the production/article depth and a sense of 'reality'. There are a number of journalists out there who speak/write in first person. So what? It makes the report intriguing, and gives it a sense of urgency. An example is Nicholas Kristof from The New York Times. Amanpour is a remarkable journalist and it's a pity you felt compelled to write an entire Op-Ed on Amanpour to bash her style of reporting. Coming from an Editor and an author of a book such as yourself, I'm rather surprised.
Jupiter | 12 years ago | Reply Civil war in Libya, you forgot the part that US, British and French has started the invasion. Dont give me humanitarian nonsense. Yemen, Ivory Coast, Bahrain all has violent protest going on. You dont see any intervention there. Anglo-American propaganda portrays Qaddafi as a kleptocrat. In reality, Libya is one of the most advanced developing countries, ranking 53 on the UN Human Development Index, making it the most developed society in Africa. Libya ranks ahead of Russia (65), Ukraine (69), Brazil (73), Venezuela (75) and Tunisia (81). The rate of incarceration is 61st in the world, below that of the Czech Republic, and far below that of the United States (1). Longevity has increased by 20 years under Qaddafi’s rule. Qaddafi, while suppressing political challenges, had shared the nation’s oil income better than the rest of OPEC.
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