Photojournalism and Ethics
There is an image making its way around the Internet today. It was captured by New York photographer R. Umar Abbasi and depicts a man who was shoved onto the tracks of a subway station with the train bearing down on him. The image ran as the front page image of the New York Post, a local New York paper, and controversy has ensued.
The facts in the case are simple. The victim, Ki-Suk Han, was shoved off the subway platform by an unnamed assailant. Abbasi, a photographer, began running towards Han. Abbasi claims he was using his camera’s flash to try to get the train driver’s attention and get him to stop the train before it ran into Han. He also says that many others in the station were running away from Han and that the distance between him and Han was too great for him to reach Han in time to pull him back up to the platform before the train hit him.
Many criticize Abbasi for “stopping to take photos instead of helping.” However, Abbasi claims he wasn’t try to take photos; he was hitting the camera button to activate the flash in hopes of getting the driver’s attention. Many also criticize the New York Post’s decision to run the image as the front page image with the heading of “Doomed.” Some say that Abbasi should have put the camera down and tried to help even if it was futile. And still others say that after it was all over, Abbasi should never have allowed the New York Post to run the image or sold any license to use the image to any news paper. In an interview with The New York Times, Abbasi says that he handed his camera’s memory card over to the Post (he was out on assignment for them) in hopes that they and the police could find the assailant. He claims not to have been part of the group that decided to use the image. His chief criticism is for the people at the station who were closer to Han but ran away instead of trying to help the man.
Still, the fact that the image exists and was published opens up a new chapter in ethics in photojournalism. Should Abbasi have used his camera at all? Should he have tried to capture any images of the scene before him? Should the New York Post have run the image at all? What do you think and why?