Readers complained to the Guardian about its decision to publish the photo of migrants Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Angie Valeria, Guardian readers editor Paul Chadwick wrote. The Guardian‘s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, argued the photo was “important” and newsworthy even if “very distressing.”
“When the Guardian published the image on digital platforms and in print, dozens of readers disagreed strongly,” according to Chadwick. “Some thought it disrespectful, others insensitive, even racist. Anguished emails flowed in. Several readers who endorsed the journalistic imperative nevertheless protested at the way the Guardian handled the image.”
While the Guardian initially labeled the image as “graphic” to warn readers, it eventually was featured on the homepage of the Guardian‘s website so readers “unavoidably saw it,” according to Chadwick. As a result, readers didn’t see the warning and were not given a choice about whether to look at the image. “Thumbnails of the photo appeared in the site’s ‘most read’ and ‘related stories’ lists, draining it of power and solemnity, and making it seem merely facilitative, a cosmetic add-on,” Chadwick noted. Further, the photo was also on social media and apps without context or warning, and on the front page of the newspaper.
While Chadwick agreed with the decision to publish the image, he acknowledged readers were “valid” in complaining about how the Guardian used the image. “Ineffective warnings, in particular, risk being perceived, however unfairly, as cynicism, and that corrodes trust,” Chadwick wrote.
iMediaEthics has written to the Guardian to ask what, if any, changes will be made moving forward in handling graphic images. The Guardian declined to comment beyond Chadwick’s column. We’ve also written to UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation to ask how many complaints it has received over the photo. An IPSO spokesperson told iMediaEthics it received two complaints about the Mail Online and two about the Metro print edition. IPSO also received “several complaints” about the Guardian.However, IPSO does not regulate the Guardian.
The New York Times, Associated Press and USA Today explained why they published the photo, as iMediaEthics previously reported. The National Association for Hispanic Journalists’ criticized the Associated Press’ publication of the photo on social media.