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The great graphic photo debate
Issues related to media ethics came into sharper focus again this week after this newspaper published a photo from an accident scene in the Caprivi Region.
The photo in question portrayed the lifeless body of former Sibinda Constituency Councillor Felix Mukupi, whose life was cut short in a tragic accident last Saturday.
We got a stick from the public and we knew this would come.
However, while there is nothing illegal about our conduct, it is every responsible institution’s mandate to listen when the public speaks.
Publishing pictures of dead people is an age-old debate and what makes such choices difficult on the part of any newspaper is that there is rarely a clear-cut right or wrong answer.
Some publications employ the notion of maximising truth-telling. This is the kind of journalism where you document reality by reporting what you see to your audience.
And then there is a ‘minimize harm’ theory under which due consideration is given to the negative impact such pictures could have on some individuals.
With all due sensitivity, we opted for the ‘maximize truth-telling’ theory because we observed flaws in the conduct of those who were at the scene, particularly the police.
For the record, the photos we published where contributed by residents who were at the scene.
From the photos it appears that the police arrived at the scene bare-handed and without sheets to cover the victims’ bodies.
It also seemed that the accident scene was not cordoned off and every Tom, Dick and Harry wandered around the bodies of the councillor and the teenager.
Our third observation was that the police arrived at the scene with a bakkie, as opposed to a van, in which the deceased were to be transported to the mortuary.
One Good Samaritan offered his Barcelona FC sheet to try and cover the body of the teenager but this did not really help.
When the BBC beamed images of Muammar Gaddafi’s half-naked body, they tried to humiliate him and his associates. But for us, the aim was to expose the events that occurred at the scene.
It was for this reason that a day after we have published the photo, we had a follow-up story in which residents castigated the police for their sloppy work.
We credit ourselves for making an impact in this regard because nobody would have known this if it was not for the photo in question.