Exercise 3.3: Breaking the news?

Mobile phones now come with a decent camera and and internet capabilities as standard. Most people now have the capability of a mobile broadcasting unit in their pocket. Everyone’s a photographer and a photojournalist.

Before this advance in digital technology, any newsworthy images would have been taken by seasoned professionals who would have abided by their own ethical standards. The tabloids would also have had a loyal readership, so the need for sensationalism was not as paramount. On 3rd December 2012, freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi sent the New York Post an image of a subway train seconds from killing 58 year old Ki Sun Han, as he struggled to climb back onto the platform of the 49th Street Station. After the victim had been thrown onto the train track, terrified onlookers had tried in vain to alert the driver of the oncoming Q train. Meanwhile, Abbasi repeatedly fired his camera flash in an attempt to warn the driver, which resulted in him documenting Ki Sun Han’s struggle for survival.

Although it is not clear what type of lens Abbasi was using, it does appear as though he was close enough to assist the victim in some way. Instead of taking photographs, the photographer could have ran up to Han to pull him up onto the platform edge. However, it is difficult to judge how fast the train was travelling and whether Abbasi would have been putting himself in danger if he had tried to intervene. What is clear from the photograph is how empty the platform appears to be, and that no-one else has tried to rescue him. 

Whilst it is difficult to ascertain the precise details leading up to this tragedy, the events following it are clear. When considering the ethics of this image, I would question Abassi’s motivation for sending it to the New York Post. Was it for financial gain? Or was it out of some duty to inform and warn the public. If Abassi had taken more than one image, then why did he choose this one? Had he made an ethical decision not to select images where the train was even closer to the victim? 

Furthermore, what was the motivation of the New York Post’s editor to accept the photograph in the first place? Was it that the horrifying nature of the image would boost the publicity? There are so many images nowadays. Some people may argue that in order for an image to stand out it needs to be graphic and controversial. After all, it is now 6 years since Abbasi took his infamous photograph and it is still being discussed today. 

The bystander now has a very prominent role to play in news reporting. These citizen photojournalists are able to capture newsworthy events close-up and almost immediately after the event. This has made it increasingly difficult for press photographers.