Petra Laszlo was only practising the ‘journalism of attachment’

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Topics Politics

The world is going mad over Petra Laszlo, the Hungarian camerawoman caught kicking refugees as they fled police. As well it might. She’s clearly a nasty piece of work. A staffer for a nationalist TV station that has close links with Jobbik, a far-right party, she was captured on film kicking a child and tripping up a man who was running with a kid in his arms. It makes for unpleasant viewing. News reporters around the world have branded her a disgrace, and the social-media outrage machine has of course demanded she be burnt at the stake. She has now lost her job. Good. You can’t go around booting people when you should be filming them and expect to get away with it.

And yet, how alien is Laszlo’s hands-on, or rather boots-in, journalism? Her decision to throw herself, forcefully, into the action unfolding around her, even introducing violence to the scene, is being treated as a crime against journalistic values. Really? One could argue that she is simply practising a more visceral version of the journalism of attachment. This is the self-consciously post-objective form of journalism, which first emerged around the Bosnia War in the 1990s, which positively celebrates journalists who make themselves part of the conflicts they observe, who become players in unstable or war-like situations. In the words of Martin Bell, the BBC’s former white-suited reporter/pontificator on foreign warzones, the era of ‘bystander journalism’ is over and we have now entered an era when journalists must ‘attach’ themselves to certain sides in a conflict. That is precisely what Laszlo did. She refused to be a ‘bystander’ and instead ‘attached’ herself to one side: the Jobbik side that is suspicious of migrants.

Of course, the ‘journalists of attachment’, like Bell and the hundreds of other Western hacks who cut their teeth in Bosnia – where they took the side of the Bosnian Muslims – and in subsequent conflict zones, imagine that they were taking the side of ‘good’ (they see everything in the infantile terms of good and evil). And they will no doubt argue that Laszlo has taken the side of ‘bad’. But the fact is, all of them are attaching, all of them are refusing to be bystanders, all of them are eschewing cool observation in favour of siding with those they consider ‘good’ against those they consider ‘bad’.

Indeed, one could argue that the more respectable journalists of attachment – those who would never dream of kicking a migrant – have done far more damage than Laszlo did with her flying feet. Like start wars, for example. Or help condemn people to life in a shitty jail. So Bell says attached journalism makes it ‘harder for governments to remain inactive’. He boasts about the fact that without the attached journalism from Libya in 2011, ‘the English and French would not have done what they did’: bomb Libya. That is, journalists helped launch a bombing campaign, which had the effect of destabilising a vast swathe of northern Africa. A kick would have been a lot less harmful. In 1999, following months of attached journalism demanding that the West bomb evil Yugoslavia, Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News said: ‘If you want to know why the public supported the war [on Yugoslavia], thank a journalist.’ Some Western journalists gave evidence at the international tribunal on Rwanda, despite many serious questions being raised about the tribunal’s rigour and fairness. No matter, it’s all about refusing to be a bystander and instead helping to enact violence against or securing the punishment of those deemed ‘bad’.

Hacks need to get off their high horses over Laszlo. She only did what journalists have been doing for the best part of two decades: made herself a player, ditching objectivity in preference for visiting vengeance on people she considers ‘bad’. Many of the media outlets currently wringing their hands over this woman who has apparently brought shame on the news profession have been doing the same for years, and with far worse consequences than a kick to the chin could ever bring about.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.

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