It’s been a trying and intriguing week in the world of mass media. The picture of the man about to be crushed by a subway train in New York published on the cover of the tabloid New Yorker, raised ethical issues about appropriateness. And the not less tragic case of British nurse, Jacinta Saldanha, who committed suicide after falling for a prank call from Australian radio station DJs pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles and connecting them to the phone in Kate Middleton’s room elicited outrage from the public.
In both cases, the photographer who took the pictures and the DJs have technically broken no laws but ethics is a different ball game all together, and is such a slippery ground. And, most importantly, the consequences have been tragic with deaths involved. The question on everybody’s mind is could the photojournalist have tried to help the man who had been pushed on to the tracks instead of busily ‘snapping’ away? The freelancer has made funny excuses about why he took the pictures but the New Yorker, a classic tabloid paper, is not making any excuses for running the images on its front page.
Both cases have inspired heated debate online, with the DJs having to shut down their Twitter accounts, and the Facebook page of the Radio station, 2Day Fm, inundated with messages from the absurd to plain idiotic. Journalists and media critics have dissected the position of the New Yorker from varying angles and maybe a journal article will come along soon to “throw more light” from this now classic case study.
In the midst of all these I was attending the annual conference of Public Relations people in Nigeria. And even though great papers were delivered on the theme of managing public opinion in critical campaigns, not one mention was made of the place of social media in critical times. Critical indeed.