NY Post subway death photo sparks press ethics debate

Dec 5, 2012

Critics slam New York tabloid for publishing picture of man about to die – and why didn't photographer help?

THE NEW YORK POST has provoked outrage - and a debate about media ethics - after it published a front page photograph of a man attempting to scramble to safety seconds before he was killed by a subway train.

The victim, 58-year-old Ki Suk Han,had been pushed on to the tracks moments earlier, allegedly by Naeem Davis, who was referred to by the Post as a "subway psycho". Davis, 30, has reportedly confessed to shoving Han off the platform at the 49th Street station, although he is yet to be formally charged.

The US media have been discussing the ethics of all involved in the publication of the picture, which was paired with the headline 'DOOMED - Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die'.

Photographer R Umar Abbasi has come in for particular criticism for failing to help Han. The Post says Abbasi ran towards Han and attempted to capture the attention of the subway train driver by firing off his camera flash.

"I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash," said Abbasi, adding that Han was "crushed like a rag doll".

The front page picture suggests that Abbasi would not have had long to help Han. But The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart says that earlier photographs taken by Abbasi suggest he had ample opportunity to pull Han onto the platform.

Abbasi said: "The most painful part was I could see him getting closer to the edge."

To which Capehart responds: "Imagine how much closer he could have gotten with a little help from someone standing so close by."

Reaction on Twitter was highly critical of both the photographer and the Post. US journalist Charles Ornstein tweeted: "The NY Post cover today crosses the line... A pic of a man pushed onto a subway track right before he is struck and killed. Grim."

ABC editor Micah Grimes tweeted simply: "HOW ABOUT HELP THE GUY OUT!?"

But Marc Cooper, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, warned against a rush to judgment. Cooper told the Los Angeles Times he was not convinced Abbasi could have saved Han's life - though if he could have done, he was morally bound to so.

Cooper believes the Post's use of the picture was justified, even if the headline was sensational, because "it makes us think how we treat others and what our toleration of violence is."

Said Cooper: "If we live in a society where people are pushed to death in a subway over a silly argument, then I am in favour of documenting that and showing that in all its horror. Journalists do not shy away from depicting horror because there is horror."

John Kaplan, a professor of photojournalism at the University of Florida and a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, told Gawker he blamed the Post for printing "a callous, crude and truly tasteless headline" across the photo, rather than the photographer for taking it.

As for whether Abbasi could have helped Han, Kaplan said it was "important to ask whether other bystanders could have safely helped, too?"

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