Be careful about publishing photos of fatal victims

THE front page of The Straits Times on April 3 carried a photograph that I found professionally distasteful and insensitive. I live in Singapore and read The Straits Times regularly. Previously I worked as a journalist and photographer for several newspapers in the United States. I am an American citizen.The photograph published depicts an image of a man identified to be  the Egyptian police chief who was killed in a bombing. He is being carried apparently lifeless in the streets, his face easily identifiable. In the past, the Straits Times published a similar distasteful photo on September 13, 2012 of deceased  US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens who died in the consulate attack.

No doubt the ST editors have rigorous discussions about content and photo selection. I also had many thorough conversations in my newsrooms about photo usage during my time as a journalist.I don't know the conversations you had, but I found the photo depicting Ambassador Stevens and the Egyptian police chief to be sensational as well as insensitive. Never should we condone showing an easily identifiable and graphic image of a deceased or nearly deceased person of any nationality. Would you publish a grisly photo of a deceased Singaporean on the cover of the ST? Probably not. So why should it be different for any other nationality?

I do not feel you served the public good with this photo, and rather chose an insensitive and sensational angle from which to tell the story of violence in Cairo. No doubt you had many other images to choose from. I've not seen any other news organization choose to use this photo you used prominently on the front page of ST. To back this up, I direct you to the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics, point number 4. The NPPA is an international guild and highly respected across many nations. If you don't respect me as a reader, I hope you would at least respect the NPPA: "Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see. " (my emphasis). Does the Singapore public really have an “overriding and justifiable” need to see the deceased Egyptian police chief on the front page? That's a question I will leave with your organisation to decide.

Having been where you are, I know you never get it right all the time and I'm understanding. However, my hope is that you consider in the future whether your photo selections are truly serving the civic good of Singaporeans and those who are staying in your country. I would ask you strongly reconsider the use of photos of this kind - in honor of the sanctity of human life and in honor of your professionalism as a national newspaper in an international city.

NOTE: Click onto the accompanying links to read The Straits Times policy on publishing photographs as well as another opinion by a Singaporean photojournalist in response to Mr Stuart’s view. The ST article also explains why the picture of the Egyptian police general was used, and describes the front-page publication of the picture of Ambassador Stevens by major newspapers in the US like The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. – Readers’ ed.