10 فروردین 1394

Iranian media lack standards for publishing violent images

30 March 2015

Translated by:Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info –Sara Mohseni: How photographs should be published by the media has always been a subject of controversy. Decisions over whether a photo should be published often vary depending on state regulations, organizational bylaws, media policies and code of ethics, or simply the opinion of managers.

However, it seems as though Iranian media, particularly those inside the country, has no specific rules on publishing images. Editor-in-chiefs are often ones decide whether a photo should be published, contains graphic violence, or is a breach of privacy.

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Mehr News Agency photo report of a public execution

For Iranian news agencies, it has been quite common to feature online images, from different angles at that, of public executions. Now, with the ISIS dominating world media headlines, Iranian media appear to have no standards regarding images that contain graphic violence.

The Press Law of the Islamic Republic of Iran only mentions of publishing photos in media in a few clauses. Most importantly, Article 28 of the Penalties Section of the Press Law stipulates, “Publishing of photos and images and contents in violation of public decency is forbidden and shall be punishable by a tazir [a sharia punishment, usually corporal, administered at the discretion of a judge]. If repeated, a heavier tazir shall be administered and the [media’s] license will be revoked.”

Newspaper front pages show Jordanian pilot burn to death

Recently, video footage and photos of a Jordanian pilot being burned to death by ISIS were featured in a few Iranian media. Once again, it raised the question: What are the limits of publishing violent images? “Most media experts believe that printing or broadcasting violent images, such as execution, murder, rape, deep wounds, bloody clashes and atrocities, is itself a kind of violence,” wrote Iran-based journalist Karim Arghandehpour on its Facebook page. “Only the news itself should be reported, excluding the sordid details.”

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Shargh front-page shows Jordanian pilot burned to death

“But there is a minority who think rather conventionally – that the media has to reflect the event as is, and violence is also a part of the reality that should be reported downright. It is up to the audience to decide how to react,” Arghandehpour explains.

Arghandehpour, who supports the dominant view, clarified: “Even though media ought to report the entire news as is, the negative ramifications of broadcasting violent images on television, social networks or newspapers are unexpectedly great.”

World media has different policies about violent images, but they share the same view about not publishing certain kinds of violent images. For instance, most media have prohibition of showing content that document the moment of death of people.

Ironically, front-page of a few Iranian newspapers featured the recent images of the Jordanian pilot, showing him burning to death. The most notable case was reformist Shargh daily. Some other hardline conservative media, most notably Khabar Online and Asre Iran news websites, broadcast footage of his burning as well.

Netherlands National Television reporter Rouzbeh Kaboli shows surprise at printed image of Jordanian pilot’s burning-to-death on Shargh newspaper’s front page.

“I really wonder why Iranian media have printed images of Jordanian pilot’s burning-to-death on their front page. I wonder even if they gave some thoughts about the impact of such images on the readership,” said Kaboli in an exclusive interview with Khabarnegaran.info.

“The readers wouldn’t have any choice to see or ignore the front page picture. It’s hitting newsstands. It’s not TV to issue a content warning before broadcasting so that people can change the channel.”

“Seeing such images may have negative impacts on young children and elderly people, or deteriorate the physical health of for example cardiac patients,” he warns.

Media are not means of waging war

But what are the real motives behind publishing such photos? Kaboli believes that ISIS and similar militant groups capture such videos and photos in the hopes of being widely shared by mass media.

Kaboli goes further when he mentions that media have the same policy toward governments. “If the defense ministry of a country publishes images of killing civilians (who views as the enemy) in a drone attack online, we will show the same reaction. We are a media organization, not a means of waging war or propagating propagandas between states or groups.”

Kaboli also believes that the media are bound to stay away from public relations of the states, militants, or military organizations.

Foreign-based Persian-language media follow a certain set of standards regarding the publishing of violent images.

Amir Azimi, BBC Persian television Newsroom Editor, tells about BBC Persian rules in an exclusive interview with Khabarnegaran.info: “BBC has a set of standards for featuring images of crises and conflicts. It states that photos should not be openly violent in the eyes of normal viewers.”

“For example, BBC does not broadcast images of death threats or killing of hostages by the IS. It just suffice to broadcast a still image of the hostage and hostage takers.”

‘Threshold for violence’ undefined in media

Azimi says that world media have different policies on publishing violent images: “No media has a defining rule concerning the threshold for violence, as violence does not have a well-established definition.”

“Journalism students learn about ethics and standards at their schools – that they must respect privacy, not report false news or unconfirmed rumors, recognize equal rights for all ethnicities, avoid insult, and not spread hate speech and violence. These are, though, very general principles and journalists certainly do not have the same perception about them.”

“So what considered violent or unpublishable in one media might be considered an indispensable truth by another.”

The threshold for violence varies among media depending on internal or external factors, Azimi explains. “Internal factors are media policies and guidelines and how they are interpreted by editors and mangers. External factors are expected audience behavior, how rival media act, as well press or penal laws.”

Is it an act of censorship if an image is rule out as violent? Would it not drive the audience into casual ways of receiving news and information?

BBC Persian newsroom editor believes that censorship takes place when a media intentionally keeps information away from its audience.

Kaboli also shares the same opinion that setting limits on publishing violent images is not an act of censorship.

“According to our statistical research on our viewership, we have concluded that most viewers are not willing to watch violent videos or images, often changing the channel when a violent scene is broadcast,” Kaboli says.

“Our viewers rather want to know why such violent videos, like beheading of a human being, are recorded and distributed on the internet. They are curious to know why they kill people like that,” Kaboli explains.

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