What does posing as "oppressed" accomplish?


Over decades journalists have disguised themselves to report on those different from them ... the homeless or marginalized workers. And just this month in Egypt, an actor disguised as a woman walked the streets of Cairo to expose sexual harassment and abuse. Some ask ... why pretend? Why not just follow the real people affected ? Today, we've got our Eye on the Media looking for answers.

Egyptian Actor, Waleed Hammad

Long before the Egyptian actor's experiment, John Howard Griffin caused a sensation when he disguised himself as an African-American man in the late 1950's to write the book Black Like Me.

Mr. Griffin's journalistic efforts to experience the segregated south were later turned into a movie. His gesture at understanding seemed well-intentioned. But some African-Americans didn't think much of it.

Malcom X considered it a kind of stunt, saying if it was a frightening to be: "a make-believe Negro for 66 days, then think what real Negroes in America have gone through for 400 years".

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Waleed Hammad disguised as woman (AP Photo)

This month witnessed another prominent effort to walk in someone else's shoes. An Egyptian actor disguised himself as a woman for a TV program to experience the harassment Egyptian women endure. Hidden cameras followed him as he walked through Cairo's streets. He got attention worldwide.

Actor Waleed Hammad was in Cairo.

Panel: Jan Wong / Bob Steele

Is it justifiable, ethical or even helpful for people to disguise themselves as members of a marginalized, targeted or oppressed group to help shed light on what they endure?

From time to time on The Current, we take a critical look at the media and the job the media does. It's part of an occasional series we're calling Eye on the Media.

And so to discuss this, we were joined by two guests.

Jan Wong is an author and journalism professor at St Thomas University in Fredericton. She wrote a series called Maid For A Month for The Globe and Mail in 2006, She lived with her two boys on a maid's salary for a month, working for a cleaning company for minimum wage. She was in our Fredericton studio.

And Bob Steele is a professor of journalism ethics and the Director of The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University. He's also the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values. He was in Greencastle, Indiana.


This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar, Karin Marley and Sujata Berry.

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The Power of Polls

Checking-In: Listener Response

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