Other campus: The thin line of ethics (Clemson U.)

By The Tiger

(U-WIRE) CLEMSON, S.C. – Earlier this week, CNN successfully challenged an attempt by the government to keep the media from reporting on the recovery of bodies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The suit was directed at then-FEMA director Michael Brown, claiming that the orders not to photograph the dead originated with FEMA.

Regardless of where the order originated, it is not the first time the government under the Bush administration has attempted to prevent the media from displaying images of dead bodies. Earlier, the White House tried to keep media outlets from broadcasting images of coffins being unloaded from a military transport returning from Iraq.

While these situations are different, they both point to the same issue: How much control should the government have over the media, and how should the media handle its coverage of such a sensitive issue?

Most people find dead bodies offensive, so the government may be acting in the public’s interest by preventing the media from plastering pictures of corpses all over the place. On the other hand, the news media is tasked with reporting what is happening. If the government – or any other organization for that matter – is removing dead bodies in the wake of a cataclysmic disaster, the public ought to be aware of it.

There is, though, a real concern about the morality of the situation. Every body recovered represents someone’s loved one, someone with hopes and dreams and ultimately a life cut short. That must be respected. However, we live in a free, democratic society where individuals are responsible for making these decisions, not the government.

But the fact that the media has a right to cover events and display images does not necessarily mean that it should do so without restraint. Many of the points made in favor of censorship are valid; it is not appropriate to display gruesome images of bodies just for the shock value or ratings. At the same time the media should not have to hide what is going on. If there is news or something that requires the public’s scrutiny, the media should report on it.

Given the freedom to report on what it wants, the media is obligated to find the right balance of reporting and discretion. The public expects the news media to keep it informed of current events but also trusts that it will act with appropriate care and respect.

Staff Editorial

The Tiger (Clemson U.)