The flood of pictures of grieving next-of-kin awaiting news of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 jet has triggered a backlash on Twitter.
The incredible appetite for information on the mystery of the missing plane saw media outlets scramble to cover the story, often with complete disregard for the sensitivities of the passengers’ families. With a lack of compelling images and video readily available, many websites opted to publish images of grieving families as they heard the news that the plane had vanished.
There is no knowing exactly where and why the plane has gone missing. Not yet, anyway. In the absence of other targets, the cameras turned on the grieving next-of-kin. The negative reaction on Twitter was immediate.
— Stella Elisa Tan (@hoshigata) March 8, 2014
Do we really need to see photographs of next-of-kin sobbing uncontrollably? One Twitter user calls it ‘grief porn’.
@robobr7 Yes. With so much confused information, what do they think the families can offer anyway, apart from grief porn?
— Kirsten Han (@kixes) March 8, 2014
“Journalists have to balance respect and empathy with the need to get a scoop of breaking news,” Adrian Lim Peng Ann, a counselling psychologist based in Singapore, told Asian Correspondent.
“If you were to put yourself in the shoes of affected family members, to be anxiously waiting for someone knowing that it is most likely bad news that will be received, you wouldn’t want talk to anybody other than trusted family members,” Lim added.
“We need to respect time and distance needed by the next-of-kin and affected members. If they want to talk, and are willing to do so, it is advisable for a trained crisis or trauma counsellor to be by their side as probing questions by reporters can hurt the already distraught next-of-kin who are at the start of their grieving process.”
Although images of grieving families dominated websites and social media on Saturday, this tweet, in particular, from @WSJAsia promoting a video where a mother hears her son is on the missing flight sparked an angry backlash on Twitter.
— WSJ Asia (@WSJAsia) March 8, 2014
The reaction was immediate, with some calling for a boycott of @WSJAsia’s coverage of the incident:
— Francis Wade (@Francis_Wade) March 8, 2014
— Stuart McDonald (@travelfish) March 8, 2014
— Samantha Brown (@sagabrown) March 8, 2014
— Andrew Hurd (@AndrewHurd) March 8, 2014
Not everyone will agree with these sentiments and many in the media industry will argue that the journalists were doing their job. The boundaries between good taste and fair reporting have never been set in stone.