DECEMBER 2012 - The New York Post and Photojournalism Ethics

Photo Caption and Credit: A subway station platform in New York’s Manhattan borough. (Courtesy of StockSnap/Pixabay)

By Bailee Bauermeister

On December 4, 2012, the New York Post published an article with the headline “Pushed on the Subway Track, This Man is about to Die” with a photo of a man trapped on the subway tracks in New York. The photo captured a man named Ki-Suck Han moments before he was hit and killed by an oncoming train. The photo taken by a professional freelance photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, depicts Han standing upright with both of his arms on the platform, indicating that he was struggling to pull himself to safety. The Guardian reported that witnesses of the event said that Han was shoved on the track by a man, following an “argument between the two.” (McVeigh, 2012). Later, police identified the man who pushed Han as Naeem Davis. According to The New York Times, the New York Police Department charged Davis with the murder of Han one day after the fatal incident (Goodman, 2012). Then on July 17, 2017, The New York Times reported that “after a three-week trial, testimony from more than 30 witnesses and four days of deliberations, a Manhattan jury found Mr. Davis not guilty of all charges.”(Mckinley & Alani, 2017). Regardless of the verdict of the case, the photo raised ethical concerns with photojournalism and sparked public outrage.

Abbasi faced backlash for taking the photo instead of going to Han’s help. But, Abbasi claims that he tried to use the flash on his camera to get the train conductor’s attention. Abbasi told the New York Post that “I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash.” (Conley, 2014). However, many people voiced that they felt that he could have done more to help. This calls forward a common ethical dilemma that photojournalists face: when to put down the camera.

The National Press Photographers Association’s code of ethics places an emphasis on not being “callously intrusive.” (National Press Photographers Association, 2017). According to USA Today, both the New York Post article and the photo “were condemned as insensitive and sensationalist.” (Petrecca & Eversley, 2012). In the article, “‘Photographers’ Ethical   Calls May Rest on ‘It Depends,’” the author discusses how the unanswered question for photojournalists is if it is better to follow situational ethics or absolutist ethics. Because of this, “photojournalists frequently face serious ethical dilemmas that force them to choose whether to act as a detached observer or as a  ‘Good Samaritan’” (Kim, 2012, p. 6).

The distinction between being a professional photojournalist or a citizen photojournalist adds blurriness to the ethical responsibility. If considered a professional photojournalist, one should follow a code of ethics and operate with a level of professionalism. On the other hand, citizen photojournalists “are not bound by educational guidelines, social organizations,  newsroom pressure, or codes of ethics” (Mortensen, 2014, p. 21). In this case, Abbasi was a professional out taking photos for another story and happened to stumble upon this event. Therefore, Abbasi is expected to follow the professional photojournalists’ code of ethics.

The photo published of Han is not the first time that a photo has been branded insensitive. According to the article, “The Ethics of Photojournalism,” when “pictures serve no real purpose,  words would have been enough” (Mitchell, 2000, p. 2). Therefore, photojournalists must continuously question if their photos are in the public’s best interest, and as technology progresses, journalists continue to revisit the ethics behind their practices.

Works Cited:
Conley, K. (2014, November 17). Suspect confesses in pushing death of Queens dad in Times Square subway station. New York Post.
Goodman, J. D. (2012, December 5). As Victim’s Family Grieves, Suspect Is Charged in Subway Killing. The New York Times.
Kim, Y. S. (2012). Photographers’ Ethical Calls May Rest on ‘It Depends.’ Newspaper Research Journal, 33(1), 6–23.
Mckinley, J. C., & Alani, H. (2017, July 17). Man Who Pushed Passenger to His Death on Subway Tracks Is Acquitted. The New York Times.