i Editor's Letter: "We can not completely sanitise the world"


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Children’s books. Jumpers, playing cards, a toy monkey, guide to Bali, travel toothpaste. The mundane horrifies when it drops 33,000 feet.

Few of the images sent to us from those wheat fields in eastern Ukraine are publishable. None of the photographs I have seen broadcast by news media reveal the catastrophe found by journalists at the scene.

Rightly so. i’s Picture Editor, Sophie Batterbury, describes herself as squeamish, but says she thinks that “we should show death – we cannot completely sanitise the world”. Sophie adds: “It is our job to tell the truth, but also to filter that horror for readers… not to show gratuitously violent images.” An editor must consider the effect of each picture on the reader; psychological violence can be inflicted through words, but far more brutally with a photograph.

Reporters at the scene spoke of the quietness out there: rural life occasionally punctuated by explosions as Ukrainian troops and separatists shelled each other 20 miles away. Police officers, miners and villagers are walking the fields for miles around the crash site, tying white ribbons to a stake when they find human remains.

Pro-Russia rebel gunmen were preventing investigators from reaching the scene early yesterday and ordering reporters about, although they opened checkpoints later. There remained confusion last night about the whereabouts of the jet’s black box flight recorders.

The surface-to-air missile was fired from an area controlled by the pro-Moscow separatists, according to US intelligence. It is a mass murder with frightening implications for international relations. Much rests on what is discovered over the coming days in those wheat fields.