Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS -- Publication of a frontal image featuring a half-naked teen aged girl on the front page of a newspaper in Samoa has highlighted a dividing line between decency and the public interest, says the Pacific Freedom Forum.
Printed in the daily Samoa Observer in an April edition which also appears online, the photo showed the naked top half of a 13 year girl with four nipples, a medical condition she was born with. Her family chose to make a plea for public support to cover the costs of corrective surgery. The girl’s face is not shown in the shot, but a mobile phone number for the family is offered, potentially leading to identification of the girl and her family.
“The story was a call for help from the family to meet the costs of corrective surgery and is ethically legitimate, but the image itself raises concerns," says PFF co-chair Titi Gabi.
“The fact that the photo was used at all shows a lack of ethical judgment on the part of the daily newspaper and its editorial team,” says Gabi, speaking from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
No complaints were raised in Samoa over the photo or story. Response has been positive, with private donors offering funding for the surgery. The family have thanked the Samoa Observer for publishing the story, on its front page.
However, PFF co-chair Monica Miller says that use of the photo by the Observer highlights difficult choices editors sometimes face in meeting ethical standards over the public interest, decency, and treatment of children.
“At best, use of the photo was questionable, linked to headlines and text which failed to increase public understanding of a medical condition affecting both sexes," says Miller, speaking from Pagopago, American Samoa.
“PFF calls for balance to stories of this nature with an editorial focus on promoting respect and dignity for individuals with conditions such as this. Images and words should never convey a 'freak-show' aspect, especially in the cases of families whose incentive in going public is financial help aimed at giving the child a shot at a normal life."
Under its current Code of Ethics, JAWS, the Journalists Association of (Western) Samoa states that “Children under 16 should be free from unnecessary intrusion. Material concerning a child’s private life should be published or broadcast only if there is some exceptional public interest other than the fame, notoriety or position of his or her family or guardian.”
Still listed as a “draft” online, the JAWS code sets the standards for news media in Samoa, says Miller.
“The framing and set up of the photo, its page of publication, and supporting headlines and text, raises editorial questions around decency, taste and intrusion,” states Miller.
"The Samoa Observer is well regarded internationally as a leading voice for independent journalism and this instance highlights the need for well established news media to maintain vigilance over content and ethics standards at all times." --ENDS
CONTACT: PFF Chair Titi Gabi | Freelance Journalist | Papua New Guinea Mail: PO Box 7776, Boroko, NCD, Papua New Guinea | Mob: (675) 7314 3929 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org PFF co-Chair Monica Miller | KHJ Radio | American Samoa Mob 684 258-4197 | Office 684 633-7793 | Email: email@example.com The Pacific Freedom Forum are a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media. We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Pacific Plan and other commitments to good governance. In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community.