Should this image have been shown at all? Should we have used it on page one?

Irish Times picture editor Frank Miller on the dilemma of balancing news with respect


Last night on the picture desk at The Irish Times we faced a dilemma. Our policy is not to show images of dead bodies. It offends human dignity, it upsets many readers and acts as a turn-off – making them turn away from the very issue which you are trying to fairly illustrate.

There are exceptions, of course. How can you fully understand the holocaust without seeing images of emaciated corpses? How can you report a genocide on the scale of Rwanda and not show a single body?

At the front page conference at 5pm last night I showed a dead body for consideration for the front page. It was an image by Nilufer Demir for Reuters of a young boy neatly dressed, lying face down in the sand at the tourist resort of Bodrum, water lapping at his face.

There were several versions of the image. In one, a Turkish policeman looks down on the body, taking notes, in what is almost a prayer moment. In another, he carries the body away. In some images the child’s face is clearly visible.

In the event we used what I think is the strongest image as the lead image on the first foreign news page. On page one we carried a picture of Michael Fingleton matching a report on his evidence to the Banking Inquiry.

Most other newspapers, in Ireland and worldwide, used versions of the dead child on page one. Most used the picture of the child being carried by the policeman – he is clearly carrying a body, but the face is not visible, making the picture less offensive. Were we right not to use the picture on page one?

In hindsight probably not – by the time we went to press later last night the images had gone viral and were all over news bulletins and Twitter.

The shock element by the time the paper hit the newsstands this morning was gone and most readers would have understood that these heartbreaking images of a dead innocent child, named today as Aylan Kurdi (3), say more about our failure in Europe to deal with the refugee crisis than an acre of print.

Frank Miller is picture editor of The Irish Times