Al Jazeera Journalism Review

outside image
Following the arrest of former Pakistan premier Imran Khan, demonstrators stand outside Avenfield House, home to former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, in London, UK, on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Diaspora journalists covering news like this must take great care to remain objective despite any emotional connection to the story [Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

‘Focus on the story, not the storyteller’ - the dilemma of a diaspora journalist

When reporting on their homelands, diaspora journalists walk a fine line between emotional connection and objective storytelling


How can diaspora journalists report on a country located thousands of miles away while balancing accurate representation and emotional connection? 

This question resonates not only among the diaspora community and the broader media landscape but also within my own journey as a Pakistani journalist based in the United Kingdom, striving to report on the ongoing conflicts gripping my homeland, Pakistan.

The nature of this question is complex, involving the intricate balance between journalistic integrity and personal identity. To answer it, we must detach personal emotions and cultural identity from the journalist's role, especially when covering a national crisis, such as a natural disaster or political unrest in our homeland. 

This separation is important to ensure that the reporting remains unbiased, grounded in factual information and in line with journalistic principles.

In his 2010 study, titled “Emotion in Reporting: Use and Abuse”, published by the Center for Journalism Ethics, Stephen JA Ward presents criteria which journalists can follow when it comes to emotions. It includes advice to use emotions "proportionately", "test emotions", and "avoid self-aggrandisement".

This study lays the foundation for identifying instances in which emotions within journalism might be excessively used and manipulated during times of conflicts. Ward notes the power of stories of people caught up in tragedy but cautions against overuse to prevent compassion fatigue and divert editorial resources. 

He further emphasises the need to verify emotional claims with objective facts. For a balanced view, audiences require both emotional expression and expert insights. This includes analysis of how political and other influences impact conflict responses. Lastly, he advises journalists to avoid using emotions to spotlight themselves and seek self-praise. He suggests, instead, "focusing on the story, not the storytellers", and countering the prevailing "all about me" media trend.

The last piece of advice is particularly significant for diaspora journalists. At times, their personal anecdotes derived from experiences in their homeland serve as powerful tools to illustrate a story and add authenticity, necessitating their inclusion in the story due to the unique situations they've encountered. 

For example, whenever I write a piece about Pakistan, I find it challenging to avoid incorporating my own experiences. There are instances when it might seem like I'm reiterating certain aspects, but such repetition becomes necessary to ensure the clarity of specific points. These personal touches not only enhance the narrative but can also provide essential context that would otherwise remain unknown. In this environment, the diaspora journalist's coverage becomes a conduit through which the international community gains insight into the nuances of a conflict, for example.

From my perspective, Ward's criteria indicate that emotions should be used to enrich empathetic storytelling, whether a journalist is on the ground or reporting remotely from the diaspora, while also highlighting the importance of maintaining unbiased coverage.

Indeed, Ward acknowledges that: "Journalists are not automatons. Expression of emotions is expected."

Although personal emotions come naturally to every journalist, they take on heightened complexity for those reporting from a diaspora perspective. This is especially amplified when diaspora journalists are assigned the role of covering a developing national crisis in their country of origin. 

For diaspora journalists, the stories we cover are not just abstract news items, they are a part of our heritage, culture and identity


For example, consider my case, where I am a diaspora journalist currently tasked with narrating unfolding political news from my homeland, Pakistan, while based in the United Kingdom. This task requires reliance on distant visuals, videos, and remote sources to construct a comprehensive and cohesive narrative. 

Amidst this already demanding scenario, the situation takes a dramatic turn - what has initially started as peaceful protests has turned into violent demonstrations and a strong public outcry. The toll is staggering: thousands are detained, dozens are grappling with injuries, and lives have been tragically lost. 

Adding to the gravity of the situation is the fact that these events are unfolding in the very city of my birth - a place now gripped by the unsettling sight of buildings engulfed in flames and the disruption of traffic on the main roads. As I navigate this journalistic journey, a crucial question arises: What role do my personal emotions play here?

A study by Sanem Şahin at the University of Lincoln, titled: "Journalism in Conflict-Affected Societies: Professional Roles and Influences in Cyprus", identifies that during national conflicts, journalists are likely to "take sides" with their community because of patriotic sentiments that may overcome professional ones.

It defines this through the concept of identity: "Journalists’ identities are not fixed but fluid. Depending on the situation, journalists negotiate and choose which role to adopt, thus moving between identities. That is why while muted during ‘normal circumstances’ under the observance of professional rules, sheer patriotism emerges in situations in which the ‘national community’ is considered to be at risk."

As I collect sources, conduct interviews and analyse events, I am mindful of the potential risks of bias, and the delicate balance I must strike - juggling my emotional ties with staying objective. 

My deep connection to my heritage could unconsciously shape my reporting, potentially distorting the truth. How do I ensure that the stories I tell remain authentic, unbiased, and meaningful, reflecting both my background and my dedication to journalism?

For diaspora journalists, the stories we are covering are not just abstract news items, they are a part of our heritage, culture and identity. 

The challenge gets tougher when diaspora journalists are connected to or back one of the political parties, creating extra professional and moral dilemmas. In such a situation, Şahin states: "They become part of the conflict and find themselves having to deal with the values that are at odds with each other. On the one hand, their professional role requires them to maintain autonomy and stay neutral. On the other hand, they are members of their communities and their attachment makes it difficult to be impartial towards the conflict. In other words, journalists are in a ‘crossfire’ as they try to balance professional autonomy with pressures from political leadership and military as well as audience expectations of patriotism."

The strong emotional bonds that Pakistani diaspora members, including myself, often maintain with their homeland's politics are quite noticeable. This is especially relevant when considering their sentiments towards the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party and its charismatic chairman, Imran Khan.

Many members of the diaspora maintain close family ties back home, and these connections keep them engaged with and concerned about the political landscape. Furthermore, the PTI's focus on engaging with the diaspora and acknowledging their contributions to Pakistan's development fosters a sense of belonging and investment among overseas Pakistanis. This acknowledgement of their importance strengthens the emotional ties they have towards the party.

However, following the outbreak of violent clashes across Pakistan on May 9, 2023, triggered by the arrest of Imran Khan, also the country’s former Prime Minister, The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Islamabad increased its monitoring of the Pakistani diaspora.

In a statement issued by the FIA, members of the diaspora were urged to refrain from inciting unrest in Pakistan. They were explicitly advised that their social media content should not promote hostility or sedition, and that they must ensure their online posts remain within “legal bounds”.

Journalists are in a ‘crossfire’ as they try to balance professional autonomy with pressures from political leadership and military as well as audience expectations of patriotism


The statement further cautioned: “If they commit any offence, the red notices through Interpol can be issued to arrest them and their names can be put on the Exit Control List (ECL).” Essentially, the directive advised against openly endorsing any political party or advocating against them. 

This scenario also acts as a poignant reminder of the potential consequences that can occur when personal viewpoints spill over into the journalistic responsibilities of a diaspora journalist.

The real struggle, then, is finding the balance between when to be an advocate for your home country and when to be an observer upholding a journalistic duty. Striking this balance requires several steps:

  • Acknowledge your personal connection: There is a need for constant self-awareness and recognition that your strong ties to your homeland might influence how you perceive events. Being aware of this connection is the first step.
  • Validate information from multiple sources: Make sure you cross-reference information and engage with diverse voices - whether they support your ideas or not. This will help you avoid a one-sided understanding of the situation.
  • Reflect on your own biases: Regularly assess whether your personal feelings might be altering your interpretation of events.
  • Engage with challenging opinions: Actively engage with perspectives that challenge your own. Doing so can help counteract potential biases and offer a more balanced view.
  • Uphold journalistic principles: Keep in mind your role as a journalist. Your primary responsibility is to report objectively, ensuring your coverage is based on facts rather than emotions.
  • Navigate ethical considerations: Strive to maintain impartiality and fairness in your reporting, regardless of your emotional connection.
  • Transparent communication: If it's relevant, openly communicate your diaspora background to your audience. This transparency builds credibility and offers context for your perspective.

Overall, achieving a balance between emotion and objective reporting is an ongoing journey. There is a need to continuously evaluate approaches and adjust as necessary to ensure that coverage remains truthful and fair.

The emotional bond diaspora journalists share with their home countries, connected with personal histories and values, influenced by family legacies and historical narratives, serves as a double-edged sword. While it offers invaluable insights and cultural understanding, it raises concerns about potential bias and subjective reporting.

Diaspora journalists carry a distinctive power to amplify the voices of their homelands for global audiences. However, this power must be used responsibly and carefully, with a deep respect for the principles of journalism that go beyond geographical boundaries.

Anam Hussain is an independent journalist based between the UK and Pakistan


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera Journalism Review’s editorial stance




More Articles

Your Words Are Your Weapon — You Are a Soldier in a Propaganda War

Narrative warfare and the role of journalists in it is immense; the context of the conflict, the battleground has shifted to the realm of narratives, where journalists play a decisive role in shaping the narrative.

Ilya U Topper Published on: 21 Apr, 2024
The Privilege and Burden of Conflict Reporting in Nigeria: Navigating the Emotional Toll

The internal struggle and moral dilemmas faced by a conflict reporter, as they grapple with the overwhelming nature of the tragedies they witness and the sense of helplessness in the face of such immense suffering. It ultimately underscores the vital role of conflict journalism in preserving historical memory and giving a voice to the voiceless.

Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu
Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu Published on: 17 Apr, 2024
Journalism in chains in Cameroon

Investigative journalists in Cameroon sometimes use treacherous means to navigate the numerous challenges that hamper the practice of their profession: the absence of the Freedom of Information Act, the criminalisation of press offenses, and the scare of the overly-broad anti-terrorism law.

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 12 Apr, 2024
Monitoring of Journalistic Malpractices in Gaza Coverage

On this page, the editorial team of the Al Jazeera Journalism Review will collect news published by media institutions about the current war on Gaza that involves disinformation, bias, or professional journalistic standards and its code of ethics.

A picture of the Al Jazeera Media Institute's logo, on a white background.
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Published on: 9 Apr, 2024
The Perils of Journalism and the Rise of Citizen Media in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia's media landscape is grim, with low rankings for internet and press freedom across the region. While citizen journalism has risen to fill the gaps, journalists - both professional and citizen - face significant risks due to government crackdowns and the collusion between tech companies and authorities to enable censorship and surveillance.

AJR Contributor Published on: 6 Apr, 2024
Orientalism, Imperialism and The Western Coverage of Palestine

Western mainstream media biases and defence of the Israeli narrative are connected to orientalism, racism, and imperialism, serving the interests of Western ruling political and economic elites. However, it is being challenged by global movements aiming to shed light on the realities of the conflict and express solidarity with the Palestinian population.

Joseph Daher
Joseph Daher Published on: 1 Apr, 2024
Ethical Dilemmas of Photo Editing in Media: Lessons from Kate Middleton’s Photo Controversy

Photoshop—an intelligent digital tool celebrated for enhancing the visual appearance of photographs—is a double-edged sword. While it has the power to transform and refine images, it also skillfully blurs the line between reality and fiction, challenging the legitimacy of journalistic integrity and the credibility of news media.

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 26 Mar, 2024
Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Citizen Journalists in India's Fight for Media Inclusion

Grassroots journalists from marginalized communities in India, including Dalits and Muslims, are challenging mainstream media narratives and bringing attention to underreported issues through digital outlets like The Mooknayak.

Hanan Zaffa
Hanan Zaffar, Jyoti Thakur Published on: 3 Mar, 2024
Why Journalists are Speaking out Against Western Media Bias in Reporting on Israel-Palestine

Over 1500 journalists from various US news organizations have signed an open letter criticizing the Western media's coverage of Israel's actions against Palestinians. They accuse newsrooms of dehumanizing rhetoric, bias, and the use of inflammatory language that reinforces stereotypes, lack of context, misinformation, biased language, and the focus on certain perspectives while diminishing others. They call for more accurate and critical coverage, the use of well-defined terms like "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing," and the inclusion of Palestinian voices in reporting.

Belle de Jong journalist
Belle de Jong Published on: 26 Feb, 2024
Silenced Voices and Digital Resilience: The Case of Quds Network

Unrecognized journalists in conflict zones face serious risks to their safety and lack of support. The Quds Network, a Palestinian media outlet, has been targeted and censored, but they continue to report on the ground in Gaza. Recognition and support for independent journalists are crucial.

Yousef Abu Watfe يوسف أبو وطفة
Yousef Abu Watfeh Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Artificial Intelligence's Potentials and Challenges in the African Media Landscape

How has the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence impacted newsroom operations, job security and regulation in the African media landscape? And how are journalists in Africa adapting to these changes?

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 18 Feb, 2024
Media Monopoly in Brazil: How Dominant Media Houses Control the Narrative and Stifle Criticism of Israel

An in-depth analysis exploring the concentration of media ownership in Brazil by large companies, and how this shapes public and political narratives, particularly by suppressing criticism of Israel.

Al Jazeera Logo
Rita Freire & Ahmad Al Zobi Published on: 1 Feb, 2024
The Perils of Unverified News: A Case of Nonexistent Flotillas

Can you hide one thousand ships in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea? I would say not. But some of my fellow journalists seem to believe in magic.  

Ilya U Topper Published on: 16 Jan, 2024
In the Courtroom and Beyond: Covering South Africa's Historic Legal Case Against Israel at The Hague

As South Africa takes on Israel at the International Court of Justice, the role of journalists in covering this landmark case becomes more crucial than ever. Their insights and reporting bring the complexities of international law to a global audience.

Hala Ahed
Hala Ahed Published on: 12 Jan, 2024
Did the NYTimes Manipulate the Sexual Violence Allegations of October 7?

An in-depth examination of the New York Times's investigation of alleged sexual assaults by Hamas during the Israeli war on Gaza, highlighting ethical concerns, and the impact of its reporting on the victims' families. It questions the journalistic integrity of the Times, especially in the context of Western media's portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A picture of the Al Jazeera Media Institute's logo, on a white background.
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Published on: 7 Jan, 2024
Is The New York Times Reproducing Allegations of 'Sexual Violence' to Downplay Israeli Crimes?

The New York Times' report on alleged sexual violence by Palestinian militants raises profound concerns about discrepancies in key testimonies and a biased reporting that aligns with Israeli narratives and downplays Israeli crimes in Gaza.

Mohammad Zeidan
Mohammad Zeidan Published on: 31 Dec, 2023
Embedded journalism: Striking a balance between access and impartiality in war zones

The ethical implications of embedded journalism, particularly in the Israeli invasion of Gaza, raise concerns about the compromise of balance and independence in war coverage.

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 19 Dec, 2023
Through a Mexican lens: Navigating the intricacies of reporting in Palestine

A Mexican journalist's journey through the complexities of reporting on Palestine and gives tips on how to manage this kind of coverage.

Témoris Grecko
Témoris Grecko Published on: 10 Dec, 2023
Echos of Israeli Discourse in Latin American Media on Gaza

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 Nov, 2023
Critique of German media's handling of Gaza Conflict

The German media's coverage of the Gaza conflict has been criticized for being biased, presenting a distorted view of the conflict, focusing only on the Israeli perspective, and downplaying the suffering of Palestinians. This biased reporting undermines the media's role as an objective source of information and fails to provide a balanced view of the conflict.

AJR Contributor Published on: 16 Nov, 2023
Colonial legacy of surveillance: hidden world of surveillance technology in the African continent

African nations’ expenditure on surveillance technology from China, Europe and the US is a direct threat to the media, democracy and freedom of speech, and an enduring legacy of colonial surveillance practices.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 14 Nov, 2023
How the New York Times fuelled a crackdown on journalists in India

Vague reporting and a piece ‘laden with innuendo’ by the New York Times gave Indian authorities the excuse they needed to crack down on news website Newsclick

Meer Faisal
Meer Faisal Published on: 31 Oct, 2023
Journalists feel the pain, but the story of Gaza must be told  

People don’t always want to hear the historical context behind horrifying events, resorting even to censorship, but the media must be free to provide it

Aidan White Published on: 30 Oct, 2023
Queen Rania is absolutely right - Western media’s double standards on Gaza

Why does international media use loaded and dehumanising language about the Palestinians when reporting on the Israeli bombardment of 2.2 million people in Gaza?

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 27 Oct, 2023