New York Post Publishes Photo of a Man Seconds Before Death–Would You?

Posted on December 5, 2012


CT  TALK-AJ-NY-POST-SUBWAY-1205Just in time to start teaching Media Law and Ethics in the Spring Semester comes what some might see a whopper of an ethical dilemma, and others might see as a collapse of human decency.

You see a man who has been pushed onto tracks as a subway nears, certain to crush him to death.

Do you take a photo?

And if you shoot it, does it get run on the front page of a newspaper?

The New York Post said yes to both of those questions yesterday when it ran the photo from R. Umar Abbasi, a freelance photographer, taken seconds before 58-year-old Ki-Suk Han was trapped and crushed to death by the subway.

Should the photographer have taken the shot? Should he have tried to save Han? If he does get the shot, should it be published? On the front page?

This is not the first time journalism has struggled with such questions, and it won’t be the last.

Omayra_SanchezPhotojournalist Frank Fournier’s image of 13-year-old Omayra Sánchez, who after an earthquake was trapped for three days in water, concrete and other debris before she died drew considerable fire, as did Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer winning image of a vulture seeming to await the death of a Sudanese child.

Both brought much needed attention to atrocities most of the world would never otherwise see or begin to comprehend. Both burn deep into the psyche of many who see them. Many see them as exploitative.

2This photo is, of course, far different from those shot by Fournier and Carter. There was no natural disaster here, no region-wide epidemic of starvation and abuse to which the world might otherwise be blind.

This is one man alone in the face of an unspeakable,  nightmare–one of which could have involved anyone on that platform–and he appears abandoned only so far as human compassion and assistance, not voyeurism.

Photographer Abbasi is described today on the Post website as “anguished,” and says he was too far away to help. Carter was adamant that the child in his image survived and made it to a relief station. But Carter also committed suicide three months after winning a Pulitzer Prize for his photo

In journalism, we chronicle the news of world for others to see and experience, but what happens when that experiences crosses the boundary of acceptability for those who view it?

Is this keeping the public informed?

Is this horrific exploitation?

Is this why journalists now rank near the bottom of respectable professions?

Now decide: Would you have run the photo?

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