Sunday, September 22, 2013

Letter to The New York Times' Public Editor Margaret Sullivan on photos of the Westgate Mall shootings in Kenya

Greeting, Ms. Sullivan,

My name is Michael Deibert and I am an author and journalist who has reported from Africa off and on since 2007, having most extensively worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I am writing to you in your role as Public Editor to express my concern at the photos of dead bodies from the Westgate Mall shootings in Kenya - their faces fully visible - that were published on the New York Times website yesterday. The URL can be found here: [not linking to photos here]

Quite honestly, as a journalist who has reported on conflict for going on quite a number of years, I was shocked and dismayed by this. Would the New York Times run photos of blood-soaked dead white Americans after one of the many mass shootings that occur in the United States? I doubt it. That they did so after the mass killings in Nairobi yesterday is very troubling, not just to me, but also to many other journalists, academics and analysts who focus on Africa.

There are ways to depict violence so that people are not immediately recognizable to their loved ones, friends, and so on, and everyone, American, African, or whatever their nationality, deserves some dignity in death. One can show dead bodies without showing their faces, leaving people confronted for the rest of their lives with images of their family members and other loved ones soaked in blood and torn asunder. I've seen plenty of bodies dead through violence over the years, so I am not asking that the end result be sanitized, but rather wondering why some slight restraint was not used in allowing the bodies to be so immediately recognizable.

I would also stress that I am
not at all taking the photographer to task for shooting as many images as he could in such chaotic circumstances - and showing great personal bravery in the process - but rather why the editors would chose to run some of them.

So, I ask, why this apparent double-standard when it comes to the sensitivities of people in Africa as opposed to people in the United States?

If you choose to reproduce this message, please reproduce it only in its entirety.

I appreciate any light you may be able to shed on this matter.



1 comment:

Thrasher said...

Thank You Michael for both writing about this topic and speaking truth to power with your letter to the NYT.