Privacy protection – scenario

All the scenarios on Media Helping Media are based on real events.

<a href="" target="_new">Image by ioerror / Jacob Appelbaums</a> released via <a href="" target="_blank">Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0</a>
Image by ioerror / Jacob Appelbaums released via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

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. His clothing is distinctive. You can see the man’s face.

The picture is dramatic but also shocking. Do you:

  1. use the image as a strong illustration of the story about what is taking place.
  2. try to find another image that is less graphic and doesn’t show the man’s face.
  3. edit out his features using a photo editor and publish.

Suggested action

It would be best to try to find another image that is less graphic and doesn’t show the man’s face.

Why is option 2 the right answer

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

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.

The 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 Brewer
The author of this piece, David Brewer, is the founder and editor of Media Helping Media. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast, and online. He was the managing editor of BBC News Online when the site launched, the managing editor of International EMEA setting out the editorial proposition, hiring staff and overseeing the launch, the managing editor for the launch of CNN Arabic in Dubai, and a launch consultant for Al Jazeera English in Qatar. He has spent many years delivering journalism training worldwide, mainly in transition and post-conflict countries. He is currently mentoring journalists and editors of refugee and exiled media and helping train journalists in countries where the media is still developing.