Thursday, May 17, 2007

When is 'the public interest', personal intrusion?

One of our friends, who is a member of our church and a former child-minder of our children was very badly hurt in a cycling accident yesterday morning. Since we heard about the accident yesterday evening - our thoughts and prayers have been full of her and what her and family are enduring. It will be like that for a long time as the recovery will not be quick.
Amazingly quickly after the accident, a local newspaper had dispatched a photographer to the scene, who took some dramatic photos of her mangled bike under the front of the lorry which had hit her. I don't know if the images were printed in that paper or not - but they remain up on their website today - for all to see.

When I heard about this I was initially really annoyed. How dare they intrude in upon my friends' pain, her family's pain, my community's pain - I thought. The need for shocking pictures in order to sell newspapers seemed grubby, callous and cynical.

But then I began to wonder if there was not also a legitimate public interest in this story. If trucks are even occasionally mowing down cyclists in our streets - then we do need to know that as a society in order to respond appropriately. Perhaps shocking images do more than sell tawdry evening newspapers, perhaps they help to alert cyclists, legislators and truck-drivers alike to the horrible reality of the dangers on the road. Perhaps the hackneyed 'thousand words' of a picture is exactly what we need to see in order to bring home the reality of the tragedy.

So, I am left wondering - when does 'public interest' become 'personal intrusion', when should journalists stand back and allow the suffering the dignity of doing so quietly; and when should newspapers use as powerful prose and photos as they can find - to highlight matters of legitimate wider concern? How can we facilitate justice for victims without encouraging ambulance chasing? - would be a legal equivalent.

I'd appreciate the thoughts of the small, but erudite, readership of this blog on this.


Anonymous said...

Well, was the photo itself gratuitous or innapropriate?

That Hideous Man said...

Well, it clearly shows the crushed remains of my friend's bike under the wheels of the truck. It doesn't show her, merely lots of traffic police everywhere. In other words it shows enough to shock and upset those who know her - but nothing that would disturb the uninvolved.

I chose not to post a link to the photo on-line.

Thoughts and prayers still with them all.

Anonymous said...

If the photo itself wasn't innapropriately intrusive then surely the press have just done their job?

Steg said...

The front page of Friday's PA had a photo of the mangled bike under a lorry and mentioned the age and sex of the cyclist, but did not name her, which is pretty restrained I think. The article also appealed for witnesses and had a phone number to call. Witnesses will be essential for any police investigation/application for compensation by your friend - for instance if she's a childminder she could appeal for loss of earnings if it's shown that the lorry driver is at fault.

I hope your friend makes a full recovery........

That Hideous Man said...

Thanks - it wasn' the PA that shocked me so much as the Evening Tele, not in terms of what they actually wrote but because the Tele had their story up so soon. The Tele had their photo up while she was still fighting for her life.

It's a good point about the hunt for witnesses though.

The Famous Grouse said...

No worse than using the story on your blog, shurley?