Death of a War Correspondent. A Modern Media Institute Case Study

The world of Polish journalism roiled in early May over the publication of very graphic photographs of the death of war correspondent Waldemar Milewicz in two Polish dailies, the tabloid Super Express in its Saturday, May 8, [2004] editions.

Milewicz, a reporter for Polish State Television, along with production assistant Mounir Bouamrane, were killed by terrorists in Iraq. According to a CNN report, Milewicz and his Polish-Algerian colleague Bouamrane were traveling from the Iraqi capital to the central city of Hillah when their vehicle came under heavy fire. Jerzy Ernst, a cameraman for Poland’s state-run TVP network, was wounded in Friday’s attack, which took place 30 km south of Baghdad near Mahmoudiyah.

Following the publication of the photographs, a number of journalists and news organizations, particularly broadcasters, drafted an open letter of condemnation aimed at Super Express and its editor, Mariusz Ziomecki, and the publication quickly became the subject of talk shows and launched an intense internal debate among leading media figures, politicians and journalists.

Meanwhile, Rzeczpospolita, a leading political and financial newspaper co-owned by the Polish government and Orkla of Norway also on Saturday published a graphic photograph from the murder scene. There seems to have been little ire aimed at Rzespospolita, whose photos were, in MMI’s opinion, less graphic but still rather shocking.

Azer Hasret, Chairman, Central Asian and Southern Caucasian Freedom of Expression Network (CASCFEN), Azerbaijan:

Point blank: would you have printed the pictures that Super Express printed?

Of course it is not easy to decide to publish such a photo of colleague. But let me ask a question: Does this newspaper usually publish this kind of photo of people other than journalists? If yes, we shouldn’t blame this newspaper for the single reason that the subject of the picture is a journalist colleague. A second point is that if newspapers in general (I mean not only Super Express) publish such kind of pictures, how can Super Express be condemned. But I’d not publish the picture in this way. I mean in front page taking half of the page. I’d publish the picture in a smaller size which wouldn’t attract the attention of the readers before the title of the newspaper itself, as this one did.

Is there a kind of double standard at work here insofar as the furor among other journalists is concerned? Are those who signed the open letter overreacting because the subject was one of their own?

To answer this question we should refer to the first answer. If this is general and Super Express publishes pictures of this nature, have those protesting now protested previously, when the subject wasn’t one of their colleagues. If the newspaper publishes such pictures regularly and those protesting journalists were silent before they have no right to voice concern just because it was a colleague’s picture. As journalists, we should be in equal consideration for all people regardless of their race, nationality, profession, etc.

How do you feel about “journalists sanctioning journalists,” as the open letter functions this way? Is that a good or bad thing?

Acts like this are appreciated by me. We should be critical of ourselves and feel responsibility for the behavior of media outlets.

What are the key value considerations that go into making such decisions and how can publications/journalists create processes for such tough decision-making?

Of course while deciding to publish or not journalists should think about ethics in general, international standards and national traditions.

Source: Modern Media Institute

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