The three murdered adults and two wounded children connected with the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez have shaken many people. It is not clear if they were targeted because of their connection to the Consulate, or if they are another tragic example of the uncontrolled violence that is affecting everyone in the border region. Digger, over at the Life After Jerusalem blog, pointed out how disturbed she was by the New York Times’ decision to publish photos of the two murdered U.S. employees, still slumped over in their car. I agree, it was quite shocking for a U.S. paper, although commonplace for some other countries.
The decision about when to show images of victims is a tough one, especially when you add the fact that there are different cultural thresholds for what is acceptable. In the U.S., we hear that a pedestrian was hit by a bus. The nightly news shows stock footage of Metro Buses driving through DC and then we go live to the scene, where Emergency Vehicle lights are flashing. Maybe we’ll see a lone shoe lying on the ground.
In contrast, watch the nightly news in some Latin American countries (and others) and you’ll see the victim still lying under the bus. Hopefully someone has draped a t-shirt over the victim’s face – you know, out of respect.
This country certainly has heard plenty of debate over if and how to publish photos of dead U.S. soldiers. What about victims of disasters? The NYTimes got criticism for publishing photos of a dead child after the Tsunami on the front page, and the Post has recently come under fire for its images of Haiti. Do we want to ban all photos of dead people in newspapers? Probably not. So then what is too much: flag draped coffins, dead soldiers, disaster victims, murder victims? Is it different if we see their face?
These questions have been mulled by readers, journalists and editors for a while and there are no easy answers. And I’m sure the standards of what is acceptable has changed over time in this country. When I lived in Nicaragua several years ago, I found myself getting used to the graphic images on the nightly news after a few months. That realization scared me. I don’t want to get used to these images.
It’s hard to know where to draw the line – but for me, showing the faces of victims seems to cross a line of privacy and dignity. The horror of the situation can be conveyed by words and images of the car, a coffin, or the grief of a survivor. But spare us the face shots, please.