Media

Can We Critique Abuses of Privacy Without Compounding Them?

By Michelle Martin
Published January 18, 2010

Fr. James Martin (no relation), occasional guest on the Colbert Report, has made some observations about privacy and news coverage in the middle of natural disaster and human tragedy.

I follow his posts on the America Magazine blog In All Things, and find him insightful and interesting.

On January 15 he wrote about CNN coverage of the earthquake in Haiti. Below is a quote from that post, in which he describes the rescue of a small child:

Anderson Cooper stands atop the wreckage covering the story, as her family and friends claw at the concrete in a desperate attempt to free her. Go to the mark of 1:10 to see Cooper stick a microphone under the rubble and catch her terrified screams and choked sobs. Did they ask her if they could film the most terrifying moment of her life? And if they did, was it right even to ask? How is human dignity best respected? By filming or by not filming?

Fr. Martin correctly questions if a journalist can obtain legitimate consent from people who are in shock and hurting. I differ with him on one point, though. I wonder how respectful it is to embed the very clip he writes about, if there is a question about respect for the dignity of the little one in peril; or to hyperlink the other clips filmed by CNN, like the medical treatment of a 15 day old baby in front of his distraught father, or a grieving family burying a young woman.

I don't plan to watch any of the clips he links to, and I'm not linking to his actual blog entry. He makes the point that a CNN reporter could have described these things and not filmed them, maintaining anonymity and privacy for the victim.

I think Fr. Martin could have written about this without posting links to the videos. I know the clips are easily found by anyone who wants to see them, but why whisper more into the online echo chamber? When do we say, "Enough - I won't add to the problem."

What do you think?

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton where she and her husband are watching their 10 children fly the nest, one by one. She has been published in both the Hamilton Spectator and Raise the Hammer, as well as in the online edition of the National Post and, more recently, in the Canadian Urban Transit Association's Urban Mobility Forum. Michelle is coordinator of the Community Access to Transportation program. She was formerly on the writing/copy editing team of the original Crown Point hub paper, The Point. However, the opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own. She sometimes tweets @deltawestmom

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted January 18, 2010 at 21:13:43

That news report sounds disgusting to say the least, you bring up a valid point.

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 01:45:24

I've often thought about the actual scenarios these reporters are in. Would it not be more helpful to actually do something to help, not get in the way but help the people around to set up triage or clear paths or crowd control, etc.. I know this has been beaten to death over the years about moral responsibility and the need to know but really, Michelle is right, can't we get a blurb after all is well (or not well) without having to live through it frame by frame? Makes for good tv I suppose, and that's why everybody is so desensitized to real tragedy these days. But that's a different topic.

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By shaddupsevenup (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 07:33:52

I watched AC360 last night, and a couple of journalists took a rescue victim in the back of their truck, to several clinics before she was helped. I also watched Anderson Cooper pick up a child who'd been struck in the head by a rock and whisk him away to a safe area. Not than I'm a giant CNN fan, but sometimes I think the demonizing of the media is just a kneejerk reaction. Yes, they do dumb stuff, but they also do great things.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted January 19, 2010 at 08:00:49

Not than I'm a giant CNN fan, but sometimes I think the demonizing of the media is just a kneejerk reaction. Yes, they do dumb stuff, but they also do great things.

I agree-- they do. I do marvel at the courage of journalists who bravely go to places we wouldn't to bring us information we need. A free media is crucial to a free society, but I don't think it unreasonable to ask professional journalists (or ourselves, in other situations) to think precisely about what their goals are in a particular instance, and how best to achieve those goals while respecting the dignity of all concerned. It's not only and all about the story.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-01-19 07:08:45

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By get real (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 18:31:09

The thing about dignity in a war/disaster zone is that there is no dignity.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted January 19, 2010 at 19:34:59

The thing about dignity in a war/disaster zone is that there is no dignity.

My response to that is to change my signature file.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted January 21, 2010 at 20:30:03

An update: Here's a video interview of Fr. Martin (not with Stephen Colbert) making the same points, with no cutaways to the videos he refers to.

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