The picture has become iconic in just a short period of time — but of what? Did the New York Post’s front page this week depict man confronting inevitable death, or soulless media exploiting personal tragedy for sales? CNN gives a somewhat one-sided look at the controversy over the image of the final seconds of Ki-Suck Han’s life and the debate that raged over the last 24 hours:
The one-sided nature of the report comes at least in part because neither the NY Post nor the photographer chose to talk to CNN. The latter demanded payment from CNN as a condition of his appearance, which would have raised other ethical questions, and certainly could have influenced the tenor of the report. The Post’s editorial decision didn’t get unanimously panned, but didn’t get a lot of support, either:
“Even if you accept that that photographer and other bystanders did everything they could to try to save the man, it’s a separate question of what the Post should have done with that photo,” Jeff Sonderman, a fellow at journalism think tank the Poynter Institute, wrote on the organization’s website. “All journalists we’ve seen talking about it online concluded the Post was wrong to use the photo, especially on its front page.”
Kenny Irby, Poynter’s senior faculty member for visual journalism and diversity programs, said what the paper did wasn’t necessarily wrong.
“It was not illegal or unethical given that ethical guidelines and recommendations are not absolute,” he said in an e-mail. But he also thought the Post could have used another photo because this one crossed the line of dignity.
“This moment was such for me — it was too private in my view,” he wrote. “I am all for maximizing truth telling, while minimizing harm, which can be done by fully vetting the alternatives available and publishing with a sense of compassion and respect.”
There are two questions on ethics here. First, should the photographer have snapped the picture rather than rushing to the man’s aid, assuming of course that he was close enough to have been able to do so? Second, should the Post have held this picture for the inside of the paper or perhaps not run it at all? I’m not certain we can know enough about the circumstances of the first question to get a good read on it, but the second question is a little more straightforward. Let’s take a poll:
Here’s another question, though: would the police have found the alleged perpetrator so quickly had the Post not created the firestorm of controversy by running the picture of Han’s last moments on the front page?