Gruesome photos of Kenyan mall shootings spark debate
(GIN) — The shocking terror assault at a popular shopping center in Nairobi sent shivers around the world as global news media supplied minute-to-minute coverage of the deadly event.
Some 68 people were killed and 170 injured in the attack by alleged Somali al-Shabab insurgents who, for four days, held hostages in a siege at the upscale mall.
News photographers at the scene snapped graphic images of frantic store visitors and victims who lay bleeding and possibly dying. Horrific pictures, on page one of a New York daily and in several papers in Africa, soon sparked a fierce online debate.
“How much blood is too much?” asked columnist Richard Prince in his column “Journal-isms.” In a piece titled, “Race factor raised in graphic images from Kenya,” he quoted Michael Deibert, a white journalist, who observed, “Quite honestly … I was shocked and dismayed by this … Would the New York Times run photos of blood-soaked dead white Americans after one of the many mass shootings that occur in the United States? I doubt it.”
Senior faculty member Kenny Irby of the Poynter Institute told Prince, “There continues to be an apparent double standard, which I refer to as the ‘exotic rule.’ The farther away and the browner the faces, the less sensitive I find the ethical rigor. For instance, I could not find a body in the Navy Yard or Boston Marathon shootings.”
New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan defended the occasional use of sickening pictures such as those recently published from Syria. “Images of war matter,” she wrote, citing such iconic shots as the brutal execution of a Viet Cong guerrilla, a naked Vietnamese girl burned by napalm and the charred corpses of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq.
Photo editor Michele McNally added, “I think our audience is very sophisticated. They don’t want us to pull our punches.”
Meanwhile, back in Kenya, a front page picture of a blood-spattered woman shrieking in agony sparked a torrent of furious complaints. It prompted Nation Media Group CEO Linus Gitahi to issue an apology. “Kenyans, we made a poor judgment on our front page photo today. We sincerely apologize for the hurt caused.” The apology was forwarded on Twitter 1,192 times.