Knowing my impulsive, emotional self, what shall I do if a source asks me for money in a needy situaiton?

'First, do no harm,' said Hippocrates in his medical oath, and 'second do what you can to relieve suffering' said the Dalai Lama in 'Ethics for the new millenium'.

So, I tell myself that I shall strive to be human. My responsibility as a person comes before my responsility as a journalist, or as an anything, I've been taught. As a person I have a duty to protect human rights. I shall not always get it right, but I shall always look at the broader picture, which is to relieve suffering.

As a wise woman, I shall try to weigh up all the circumstances, and I shall seek advice. For example, I shall not give money if there is any question of criminal proceedings (actual or pending); if, no matter how humanitarian, the giving might be misconstrued as obtaining information by false pretences; if it prefers the need of one source over another's; or if it is obviously against the public interest. Then I shall not give money.

This means that in every event, I shall apply my compassion with restraint, conscious of the problems which might arise. I shall ask, will giving financial help compromise my impartiality, even if I'm giving for humanitarian reasons? Will there be a conflict of interests? Whose interests am I serving: the person in front of me at the expense of the wider good?

My goal is to uncover the real causes of the suffering and to promote the likely best solutions. If giving money interferes with this goal, then I shall not do so. And if I do, I shall disclose any payment I make, as I am required to do by law and ethics.

I shall strive to practise compassion so as to achieve its wider objectives, in such a way that it's effect will reach the wider good.

In other words, I shall have to watch myself!

Comment on this Post


Hi Monica,

It's so hard for me to interview people who have a financial or other problem, and then turn my back, write the story and forget about them. A few times the people have called me to ask for help (most recently two days ago) - not necessarily financial - and if I can help, I do. We, as writers, can write our stories without compromising the publications that we write for, or without compromising ourselves and our beliefs. I think it depends on the situation. To me, it's a personal thing when I am asked for help, and the human, caring side of me can not say no if I am able to help. There is nothing unethical about that...........we are all human, and we all have problems. There is nothing more satisfying then giving of ourselves. Don't you agree?


I absolutely agree, Noreen.

I have not, over many years of practising as a lawyer, especially in South Africa when Apartheid was rife, been able to turn a blind eye to the underlying needs which, in the first instance, cause the problems. I have many times walked a very fine line between the demands of professional regulations and my duty as a person, and I've had to compromise my professional self so often. Now I am proud that I did so.

I am new to journalism and wish to learn from those of you who face this dilemma often. Hearing what you say reassures me that I can continue to do what I have always done: do what my inner tells me is the right thing to do, so that I can continue to walk with my back straight and my head held high.

Thanks so much for sharing and for your insight, Noreen.

Love from Monica in France

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive. I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well. (A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

To be honest, I do not know if there is any rule (for lack of a better word) that says that writers should not help who they write stories about. I fell into journalism through my love of writing, but as far as all the rights and wrongs or what we are or are not allowed to do (ethical or unethical) I do not know. When I help it is because I care and I see it as separate from my work. This is just my personal feeling, but it might be looked upon differently professionally. I really don't know. I'll follow this post to see if anyone else knows whats the right thing to do in these cases. You asked a good question. It is something that I never thought about. I think I will ask this question in the group journal also.