Northern Echo editor Peter Barron has described the PCC‘s decision to uphold a complaint against the paper over a photo of a man injured in a glider crash as a ‘controversial’and ‘questionable ruling”.
Last week the PCC found that a photograph of the man treated by emergency services was an intrusion to grief, despite the fact it was handed to the paper by the local search and rescue team.
The man’s wife said her husband had been left with significant injuries and the picture was ‘extremely intrusive’and had led to number of ‘distressing telephone calls from friends”.
But Barron believes the PCC’s decision has major implications for news organisations reporting breaking stories. He said the paper had no way of contacting the pilot and had received no direct contact from either him or his family, adding: ‘He was unidentified and not a local man.
‘It is true that the photographer, from the search and rescue team, could have sought his consent, but that was not in our control. We took care to check that his injuries were not life-threatening. If they had been, the picture would certainly not have been published.
‘We could have masked the man’s face and, in the light of this ruling from the PCC, perhaps that is what editors will now have to do. The big question is: where do we draw the line in photographing news events?”
Writing on his editor’s blog Barron went on to reference Huynh Cong Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning of a young naked girl running from a napalm attack and images of terrorist atrocities.
‘The scale of an event is clearly a factor,’said Barron. ‘Shocking images of the victims of September 11 and the London bombings in 2005 were published worldwide and accepted as part of legitimate media coverage. So where is that incredibly difficult line to be drawn?”
Last September the paper published pictures of students injured after a double-decker bus crashed into a low bridge in Darlington, images that Barron said were more graphic than the picture of the glider pilot but attracted ‘neither complaint nor censure”.
‘There are such pictures in newspapers every day – road accident scenes, fire emergencies, train crashes, lifeboat call-outs, helicopter rescues,” he said.
‘In the light of the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking, the Press Complaints Commission is under pressure like never before,” added Barron.
‘It has an undeniably difficult job to perform, but the commissioners have months to come to a conclusion, while editors often have just minutes.
‘We live in an age of 24-hour news, with mobile phone technology turning millions of people into on-the-spot photographers, and with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube enabling instant publishing.
‘Knowing where to draw the line will only become more difficult.’