Columns And Opinions
Let flower girl who drowned in a swimming pool rest in peace
Mathew Mwangi has complained about the publication of a photo of a young girl striking a pose in a swimming suit to illustrate the story of her tragic death in a swimming pool.
The photo is that of eight-year-old Charlene Wanjiku, who drowned on October 25 in a hotel pool in Diani at the Coast.
The story, published on page 3 of the Saturday Nation of November 9, is headlined, “How flower girl drowned in pool”.
The photo is published big — two columns wide and nearly seven inches deep, running down almost the entire length of the story.
Some readers say the photo is in poor taste or view it as child pornography or a child sexual abuse image.
“I think it’s unnecessary to show an eight-year-old girl, or any child for that matter, in a swimsuit,” says Mr Mwangi.
“We should be careful on how small children are shown in mainstream media and I would expect the NMG has strict guidelines on how minors’ photos are shown.
“I believe Charlene’s photo could have been shown from the neck up or an alternative photo of her fully clothed could be shown. We must be sensitive on how children’s photos are shown, especially in this day and age of child abuse and exploitation online.
“I trust NMG will be more careful in future in the photos they show of children.”
Actually, there are two photos in the story. The first one is a more sombre head-and-shoulders photo of Charlene — the kind of picture that you would expect to see at a funeral ceremony.
It’s one column wide and three inches deep — less than one-fourth the size of the photo Mr Mwangi is complaining of.
Both photos have been cropped to change their aspect ratio.
In the second photo, Charlene appears tall and leggy. There is no caption. But any of the following that I dreamed up would not seem to be amiss: “How to pose in a swimsuit”, “Cute little girl in a swimsuit, posing at a Diani hotel swimming pool”, and “Sexy swimming wear for kids”.
Editors crop images to bring the subject into more focus, or to add more drama (than there is). They crop to add interest in an image, making the reader think more about what he is looking at.
An editor can place more emphasis on what he thinks is important, giving the image more impact.
Ideally, however, he should crop to reinforce the message of the story, not alter it.
The photo that Mr Mwangi is complaining of is gratuitous. It doesn’t help to tell the story better. It weighs against good taste and the privacy and dignity of Charlene and her family.
But Mr Mwangi’s complaint is problematic as her family shared the photo with the Nation. So there was implied consent to publish the photo.
In any case, no law is broken, and whether the photo is child pornography is a matter of opinion.
And while the Constitution guarantees privacy, there is no law that extends the protection to dead people. Indeed, under common law, the right to privacy applies only to the living.
However, case law in other jurisdictions suggests family members can claim protection of the privacy of their loved ones if violation of the privacy could cause them trauma.
On its part, the NMG editorial policy says the media should not publish anything that is obscene, vulgar or offensive to public good taste. And, generally, what is in good taste should be determined by “the prevailing social norms”.
With regard to photographs, the basic tests that should be applied include whether the photo is vulgar and indecent, whether it is mere pornography, and whether it is invasive of anyone’s privacy, among other tests, the policy states.
While it was necessary for the Nation to publish an image of Charlene, the choice of the second image and how it was cropped leads to questions of impropriety.
This shows that journalists have to think about the implications of the pictures they publish and to look for images that help to promote the dignity of the dead.
In particular, when publishing photos of children, they need to be extra critical, questioning whether it is appropriate to publish the images.
In this case, they should have let Charlene rest in peace.
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