Public Editors, NPPA Weigh in Ethics & Standards for the Christopher Stevens Photo

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Front page of New York Daily News, detail. (Face obscured by us)

As we previously wrote, the New York Times defended its publication of a photo of U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, who was killed last week.  The State Department called for the photo to be taken off the Times’ website, a call which the Times’ associate managing editor for standards Philip B. Corbett described to iMediaEthics as “rare.”

However, several newspapers did decide to run photos of Stevens.

The New York Daily News ran the photo as a full-page cover photo. We asked the Daily News why it decided to run the photos and if it heard from the State Department over the pictures.  Source Communications’ Ken Frydman, on behalf of the Daily News, told iMediaEthics the newspaper had “no comment.”  Frydman added in an email to iMediaEthics that others including “Fox and the NY Post ran the same photo.”

The Globe and Mail’s public editor, Sylvia Stead, blogged about the Canadian newspaper’s decision to run the photos, noting that a reader complained the photo was “horrific and tabloid.”  Stead noted that the photographer said Stevens wasn’t dead in the photo.

While Stead acknowledged she “wasn’t part of the debate” on publishing the photo, she reported on both the newspaper’s “photo policy” and what the newspaper’s managing editor Elena Cherney said led to the decision to publish.  According to Stead, the newspaper’s “photo policy” reads in part:

“Showing dead bodies, bloodied victims and traumatized survivors of bombings, massacres and other tragedies is justified, provided the image is historically relevant and/or advances the story in a serious and considered manner; conveys information relevant to the story; and is not intended primarily to shock readers or viewers.”

And Cherney is quoted as explaining the paper put the photo on the inside of the newspaper because of the “sensitivities of showing someone in such a condition.”  Also like the Times, the Globe and Mail argued the photo was newsworthy.

For her part, Stead agreed with the publication as “reasonable” given that Stevens “was not dead or bloodied” nor was the image “graphic.”  She also opened it up to readers asking for feedback: “What is your view on this? Are we right to publish such photos? Is our basic policy correct? Is there a higher standard for the front page photos?”

And, the National Press Photographers Association weighed in on the photo publication in a group blog post.  John Long, who chairs the NPPA’s ethics committee, argued that running the photo “is not an ethics issue” but a “taste issue” because the photo “is an accurate depiction of what was happening in front of the camera at that time.”  He wrote:

“Each newspaper, web site and television network must answer the question for themselves because each newspaper, web site and television network has a compact with its specific readers or viewers on what the limits of taste are for that publication. If I were still part of the editing staff at The Hartford Courant I would argue to use the photo inside. If I were working for the Daily News in NYC I would argue to run it on the front, in color. We all serve different expectations.”

However, Long published “a string of emails between the members of the committee and Don Winslow.”  Peter Southwick argued the photo shouldn’t have been published writing:

“In my opinion it goes way over the line of taste judgment and has no place in any publication. It doesn’t lie to the public (an ethics violation), but it has no reason for being and serves no journalistic purpose other than shock value (a taste violation, to be sure).”

And Winslow suggested the photo “can potentially be viewed as inflammatory language,” adding:

“Yes, it’s taste, but it also carries with it the ethical yardstick of being potentially inflammatory, and if it were hate speech, racial slurs, or incited violence, it would be run through an ethical barometer.”

Hat Tip: Poynter

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Public Editors, NPPA Weigh in Ethics & Standards for the Christopher Stevens Photo

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