This past weekend we read the editorial piece by Rick MacLean that ran in The Guardian. The title of the piece was “Disturbing photos part of news”. Mr. MacLean went on to recount coverage of the murder of a young woman in 1980’s, and the fact that the story made front page news. His dilemma was whether to publish an image of the late woman, and on what page of the publication.
The duty of journalists
He argued that it was the duty of journalists to “shine a bright light on reality”; to show people the world as it really is.
He implied that by sharing a school picture of her late daughter; the mother had somehow also provided consent to use an image of the dead woman. The image used was one captured by the journalist at the scene and shared with whoever read the publication.
There was no mention of the added trauma this image could cause the family, nor it’s impact on the first responders who responded to the scene. There was no thought given to their grieving process.
As a high school student in the late 80’s, we were subjected annually to a wrecked vehicle on the front lawn of the school, to serve as a reminder of the dangers of drinking and driving. I’m not sure that this “reality check” served its purpose. The impactful messages, were those shared by survivors of such tragedies. They shared the rawness of their emotions – in some cases, years after the actual event. What proved even more meaningful, was when they spoke of the deceased; sharing their passions, hopes for the future, the impact of their loss on family and friends.
Remember the deceased for who they are – a beloved family member, collector and friend.
We’d encourage our media to be thoughtful in what they publish. They are trained to see the big picture, to challenge their reader and garner discussion on what can and should be changed. When they promote timely and constructive dialogue, we can see the deeper issues: road safety, the disastrous outcomes of domestic violence, and the need for appropriate strategies.
Death is not to be sensationalized, regardless of the cause. We would rather learn about the individual: the fact they were a loving parent or partner, a vital member of their community, an active volunteer. They are not simply a “body”, they have a name and are loved. That’s the reality.