IoS letters special: News photography (4 January 2009)

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As the full extent of the casualties in Gaza emerged last week, we invited readers to comment on our picture coverage. Some photographs were, we believed, too graphic to publish. We asked you if we should never publish pictures of the dead, or make each judgement on its merits. The overwhelming majority of readers argued for pictures to be used, however horrific their content. Extracts from some of these letters and emails are published here.

I have worked as a medical volunteer in Palestinian refugee camps under siege between 1982 and 1988 and have witnessed war, death and destruction. Filth, stench, dead and dying people, covered in dust, some with holes in them, others decapitated, others just large pieces of ragged tissue, an arm, a leg: this is the reality of war. If you do not show it, you are sanitising war.

Ben Alofs

Bangor, Wales

By not showing these images you are contributing to the violence. If people saw the real face of war they would rise up against their governments demanding a stop to this violence. This is censorship so that ordinary people do not get upset and take to the streets. You are helping the government to control the people.

David Sketchley

Conil de la Frontera, Spain

There was once a famous photo of a girl running naked after the US napalm attacks in Vietnam; did anyone ask that girl if she minded if she was broadcast abroad for all to see her distress to outline the barbarity of war? Didn't that photo help bring about the end of US involvement in napalm attacks? It also brought about her restoration to health.

Ruth Greening

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Photography is the instant history of the moment and I encourage you to use it frequently. As a citizen of the US, I am appalled and ashamed by the use of my tax dollars to murder Palestinian children. If the news media has photographs they do not use, they are no better than the criminals in Tel Aviv and Washington who encourage and lead the slaughter.

John Kirkman

Munster, Indiana, USA

Here in Australia we very rarely even hear about civilians being killed in the Middle Eastern conflicts... but they always focus on the Western casualties. But we all saw the trauma of 9/11 on all the mainstream media... as if only we in the West were under the threat of terrorism, whereas it is the US government and its allies that cause most conflicts and casualties. If the public saw what their governments have done or condoned, people might not be so supportive of them.

Evan Rees

via email

One picture says more than a thousand words,so we agree with you that each photograph should be judged on its merits.

Adriana Binova

via email

It was the television pictures of victims of the Sharpeville massacre that began the West's disgust with apartheid in South Africa, but when it saw young children being gunned down in the streets by the state police, that really got it involved by forgetting profit in favour of justice.

Robert Lalljie

via email

Thank you for opening a difficult, but ever-crucial debate about the publication of images of the deceased. Your newspaper must break away from this rather unnecessary taboo and consider the impact of publishing such imagery. For too long now we have come to accept that earthquakes, wars, etc are phenomena affecting only far-flung corners of the world.

Wasim Yunus

via email

Photographs reflecting death should be used, when necessary, to capture events, as they are only reflecting reality. The reader may even take some constructive action, such as demanding government action. Not showing such photographs is a form of unnecessary censorship.

John Grealis

via email

I was disgusted to see the shocking front page showing the destruction in Gaza. Whilst I can sympathise with the loss of life, as a national publication it is an obligation to your readers to show both sides of the story. When was the last time your reporters bothered to write a five-page spread on the same scale of destruction that goes on in Israel caused by Hamas terrorists?

Jan Crossman

South Ockendon, Essex

I can understand your concern about gratuitous use of people in distress, pain and suffering – war porn – but that's been going on since the invention of the camera. So keep showing things that challenge people's cosy ideas about the world and make them question preconceived ideas that might make them feel uncomfortable!

Michael Ramey

via email

I am haunted by the image of the little girl with war all over her face. What kind of reaction lets you know your picture has been successful in its endeavour? When I opened the paper and saw this beautiful, sad and damaged child, my heart broke a little bit more. I am a mother, and as such, feel very strongly for all other children caught in the stupid wars of man.

Joanna

Bath

Yes, you should show graphic pictures. Children are unlikely to see them (parents can exercise control) and the rest of us are adult enough to be shown the truth.

Trevor Hoyle

via email

Editorial policy should be to combat this Disneyfication of death by using your discretion in each situation. Clearly the image needs to be an important one to justify the invasion of privacy. But not to show what is happening makes it more likely to be repeated.

Mike Payne

via email

Modern technology allows us to receive a large volume of material very quickly. By 4pm last Saturday we had in excess of 300 images from that morning's assault on Gaza. Some images showing general wreckage and crowds, some showing injured people, the strongest being the image we used on the front. There were also a number of images showing dead and dismembered bodies, some of which were relatively mild in tone and others which were so horrific that I couldn't look at them any larger than thumbnails.

Two images in particular stood out (see above): one of the injured young girl, frightened but protected by adult hands and the image we used on the front page, of an injured man being helped away from the apocalyptic scene behind. We felt that after much deliberation the injured man said more about the scale of the attack.

In this job I frequently find myself drawn to the less horrific images, as they can tell us more about the people and their suffering than pictures which are more graphic and visceral. You may feel that this is sanitising the story, but it can be hard to feel empathy for someone we do not recognise. This doesn't mean we should shy away from violent images, but that they should be used with discretion and compassion.

Sophie Batterbury, Picture Editor

Correction

In "It's nappies at dawn on Mumsnet" (28 December), we wrongly attributed a comment to revjustaboutbelievesinsanta, when, in fact, they were the words of the online poster known as Dior.

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