Jay Rosen has a thoughtful essay on his blog about the ethics of journalism-as-observation. He starts with this story from the siege of Sarajevo.
During the siege a correspondent from a Western news agency is contacted by an intermediary, someone he knows, who has an offer: to go out one night with Bosnian Serb snipers and see for yourself what they do.
A deal is struck, and he accompanies the men to one of their perches in the hills above the city, where they train their rifles on civilians, who might be trying to cross the street. This is where the siege “happens,” in a sense. This is the action itself.
“Come here,” says one of the men, after he has located a target. The sniper motions to take a look. The reporter, who in his own mind had come to see, leans over and peers for a second or two through the lens of the rifle.
He sees two people who think they are out of range standing in an alley, completely vulnerable. That is when the sniper, retaking the lens, says: which one, left or right?
This alarms the reporter. “I have no answer to that,” he says. “I didn’t come to be involved in what you do.” The sniper throws back his head to laugh, and returns to his rifle. There is a pause. In two quick bursts he kills both people just seen through the lens.
“You should have answered,” the sniper says to the Western correspondent. “You could have saved one.”