Privacy issues in image selection


Image by Ammar Abd Rabbo and released under Creative Commons

Image by Ammar Abd Rabbo and released under Creative Commons

Privacy scenario and question

You are working on the online news desk of a large media organisation. Overnight news breaks of fighting in a foreign land. Raw footage is filed showing dead bodies. Your duty editor takes a screen grab from the video for an image to use at the top of the story. The image shows a dead man lying in the street. He is wearing a bright blue and red shirt. You can see his face. The picture is dramatic but also shocking. Do you:

a) use the image as a strong illustration of the story, the killings and the suffering taking place on the street.

b) try to find another image that is less graphic and doesn't show the man's face.

c) edit out his features using a photo editor and publish.

Correct Answer:  b) try to find another image that is less graphic and doesn't show the man's face.

Why b) is the right answer

Refer the section in the article Privacy, what it means for journalists about graphic material - here are some key points.

Graphic material

We always need to consider carefully the editorial justification for portraying graphic material of human suffering and distress.

There are almost no circumstances in which it is justified to show executions and very few circumstances in which it is justified to broadcast other scenes in which people are being killed.

We should also avoid the gratuitous use of close ups of faces and serious injuries or other violent material.

We must also be global in our news values. If we have editorial rules that state that we don’t publish details of someone who has been killed until the family has been notified, then that rule has to be applied globally.

Those in the West who apply such rules to domestic coverage need to ensure that they are consistent when dealing with tragedies in far-flung countries.

A family of a dead person, who can clearly be identified, but who is the victim of a killing thousands of miles away, are entitled to the same editorial standards we apply when the incident is on our door step.

David BrewerThe author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast and online. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide.

This site has been given permission to use and adapt elements of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in these short editorial ethics modules. They have been updated to reflect changing international, regional and cultural variations.



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