Analysis, Newsworthy
Comment 1

The ethics of tragedy: MH17 plane crash

Yet another catastrophic airplane crash has killed 298 Dutch, Malaysian, Indonesian, Australian, British, German, Belgian, Filipino, Canadian and New Zealand [kiwi] passengers onboard a Malaysia Airlines flight that came down Thursday morning on the border of Ukraine and Russia.

The crash site, a mere 36 hours after the incident, is already a familiar one as reporters and news crews use it as anchor images for their developing stories. One of these images, used by The New York Times shortly after the news broke, was of a young woman’s corpse at the crash site. It has since been removed.

Yesterday, The Atlantic promptly addressed the issue, stating: “…when it comes to ethics—when it comes to the question of what readers actually need to know and see about unfolding tragedies. The bomb, exploding? The corpse, mutilated? The people falling from the towers? There is a fine line, always, between journalism and sensationalism. And the higher the speed, in general, the higher the stakes.”

As journalists, we have a responsibility to report for the public good. Might we make it mandatory to consider—in crises like this, for the sake of the deceased and for the sake of their families—abstaining from immediate photo documentation of human suffering until further conclusions about the photo’s subjects can be made to evoke a greater truth for the public good.

The Atlantic’s Megan Garber sharply concludes: “News outlets, the good ones, spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to present information as it unfolds; part of their thinking should respect the fact that images, once revealed, cannot be unseen.”

Read about the impact the crash site had on photojournalist Jerome Sessini.

File through some of the world’s front pages from today on The Newseum website to check out how different states and countries covered the most recent Malaysian Airlines tragedy.



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