Coming from a journalistic background, I’ve had to change my mindset quite a bit when entering anthropology. I was first shocked when learning that anthropologists often give gifts to their informants (and accept gifts from them as well), something that would be unimaginable in journalism. Now I’ve reached the conclusion that:
- In anthropology, the welfare of the informants is the number one priority. As anthropologists we are on the side of our informants and it’s our responsibility to protect them from possible negative impact of our research.
- In journalism, the truth is number one, and whether our reporting affects the person we interview in a certain way is of secondary importance.
These disparate attitudes are reflected in the codes of ethics of the American Anthropological Association and Society of Professional Journalists, which a student brought up in his presentation in this week’s unit of Ethnographic Film, which was on ethics.
Whereas the AAA’s statement lists “Do No Harm” at the top of the list, the SPJ Code of Ethics uses the phrase “Minimize Harm” – and only on second place. At the top of the SPJ list we find, logically, “Seek Truth and Report It”.
I’m not sure why anthropology has other priorities, though. Shouldn’t its main objective be to learn more about humanity? I can imagine it is because of its shady past that anthropology had to invent a radically new position in order to survive at all. It can also be compared to medical science, where medical doctors always have the welfare and survival of their patients as their main priority, not to learn how an exciting new bacteria might travel in their bloodstream, if that comes at the expense of risking the patient’s life.