The Only Way is Ethics: Is it right to remove disturbing images of death that can live in perpetuity on the net?

The footage was released to shock: to show how casual violence can lead to tragedy

Share

To say anything general about “the internet” is essentially pointless. You might just as well say “art” is nice or that “science” has a tendency to be a bit complex.

On the plus side, I cannot imagine life before Cricinfo. Less positively, bullies can abuse the vulnerable without leaving their cowardly hovels.

It is a truism, however, that online publishing has thrown up all sorts of challenges for the media, including a variety of ethical conundrums. Two examples have arisen in the last week.

First came death. It is rare in print and on newspaper websites to see images of a person dying. The Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice requires us to “handle publication sensitively” at times of grief and shock in order to protect families from seeing inappropriate material. Showing dead or dying bodies is not usually regarded as sensitive.

But in the recent case of Andrew Young, killed by a single punch thrown by Lewis Gill, CCTV footage of the incident was released by police, apparently with the consent of Mr Young’s next of kin. It was broadcast on TV stations and on myriad online news outlets, including independent.co.uk. Still images, which intrinsically have a lesser impact, appeared in many newspapers.

The footage was released to shock: to show how casual violence can lead to tragedy. But in print and on TV the images have an immediate news value and are then gone. Online, the gruesome film remains in perpetuity, available to all – yet perhaps most likely to be of interest to those who surf the web for real-death videos. That seems to me an uncomfortable prospect, especially if the film is presented in isolation, without accompanying copy that contextualises.

On Thursday, the decision was made to retire the film from the The Independent’s site. Anti-libertarian? Maybe so. But its initial publication served a justifiable purpose; its continued availability might have served a rather less settling one.

After death came DiCaprio

A helmeted protester on the streets of Kiev was noted to bear an uncanny resemblance to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.  Not news exactly, but it made a witty addition to an online story about Leonardo DiCaprio’s failure, again, to get the big Oscars win last Sunday evening.

One reader felt offended by the use of the image in an entertainment story. No offence was intended, of course, and I find it hard to agree that the story undermined the seriousness of the situation out east.  

The Independent’s reporting and analysis of Ukraine has been serious, insightful and considerable.  To conclude that one harmless reference to a protester looking like a famous actor reflected our view about the situation would be absurd.

But here again print and web can diverge. In the newspaper, the breadth and depth of coverage is plain to see. The website’s homepage creates a similar sense of how extensive our reporting is on any day. 

Yet a web user who alights on a single story and reads it in isolation may draw unreasonable conclusions about what it says of The Independent’s take on the subject in hand.  They shouldn’t, in theory.  After all, one imagines that someone who happened to see Have I Got News For You would not presume that its purpose or outlook was the same as the News at Ten. There remains an onus on web publishers to label content clearly to reduce the potential for confusion.  In the case of our piece on Leo, it was to be found, suitably enough, in the Films section.

Will Gore is Deputy Managing Editor of The Independent, i, Independent on Sunday and the Evening Standard Twitter: @willjgore

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition