A video of a nurse abusing an elderly woman was shared on social media and became the news of the day on Wednesday, November 2. The video, which was first published on Facebook, was shared everywhere within minutes.
Photos with the face of the victim and the nurses involved went viral on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, websites and television screens in Kosovo and elsewhere. Few media outlets took the trouble to obscure the face of the victim, which resulted in the quick identification of both the victim and the nurses that were the perpetrators. Names, photographs and other information about them were soon made public.
After a few hours, Kosovo Police announced that they had arrested the nurses. The media was flooded with comments and public attention about the case. While it seemed everyone everywhere was commenting and judging the event, either in private conversations or in comment sections, some media outlets rushed to get “exclusive” news from where the incident took place.
With the camera focused on the victim’s tearful face — images most likely taken without her consent — several reporters followed family members as they escorted the victim out of the residence. In addition to these images, social networks and television programs broadcast the name of the victim, information about her family, especially her deceased son and other information about her life.
In less than 12 hours, with our consent or not, we learned details of her life that were nobody’s business, in a media flurry that sensationalized the victim’s abuse and suffering.
In attempting to emphasize how serious the incident was, the coverage in Kosovo highlighted something else: many media outlets and journalists have no idea where the role of the media ends and when reporting no longer serves the public interest, turning it into a spectacle to boost readership or viewership numbers.
The non-stop publication of images of the victim placed a vulnerable individual in the center of a public trial, inviting everyone and giving them the right to comment and judge.
“In the name of journalism”
The victim’s illness or her martyred son were mentioned in order to give the event emotional pathos and to aggravate the “tragedy” that happened to her. This not only ignores the basic standards by which the media should operate, but also risks relativizing the experience of the victim and the crime committed against her. Physical and mental abuse against anyone is a criminal offense and is a sensitive enough topic, even without revealing other details that aggravate the circumstances. Reporting should end here.
The victim does not become more of a victim because she is someone’s mother or because the cameras show her tearful face after the incident or that of her family members as they experience the weight of the incident. Revealing details that violate an individual’s privacy are simply invitations for public judgment and distract attention from the aspects that really matter. Violence is not a TV show.
This incident should have brought up other issues for journalists — issues that would serve the public interest. For example, this incident could initiate journalistic research on how the elderly are neglected and abused in our country or how they are portrayed as useless members of society. Does the government provide safety for them? How are care homes licensed? And how does this all relate to ageism — discrimination and prejudice against people because of their age? Instead, it served as an opportunity for some to attract viewership.
Basic journalistic standards protect victims. These standards require that when the public interest is pursued, as little as possible should be revealed about the victims involved. Identity and privacy must be protected because, as unbelievable as it may sound to some of our media outlets, the lives of the victims and their families continue even after the brief media spectacle finishes.
But above all, the standards for professional coverage of events by the media are crystal clear — judgments, opinions and sensationalism do not belong in journalism. Journalists are also not supposed to share moralizing or prejudicial sentiments towards an event and the people involved in it should not become central to the reporting on such cases.
It is a journalists’ duty to know how to do their job better than this, as it is the obligation and professional responsibility of each journalist and media outlet.
These basic standards are in the Code of Ethics of the Press Council of Kosovo (PCK), an organization that almost all of the media outlets are members of, and yet still exploited the victim and the incident. These standards are also part of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), which supervises audio-visual media for potential ethical violations. Regardless of the PCK or IPC, these standards should be understood by everyone who decides to become a journalist.
It’s not just old, outdated rules that only journalists in dusty newsrooms in the last century had to respect. They are not standards that we can violate because we want to be the first and to follow trends laid out by other media outlets. Nor are they standards that should remain in imaginary editorial policies because if you follow them, nobody will read you. These standards are essential because by respecting them, we protect the people we work for.
If each of the journalists who turned yesterday’s event into a spectacle and re-victimized the abused woman would have considered these guidelines and were committed to respecting these standards, they would never have allowed the victim and her family to be turned into the protagonists of a spectacle that has no place in the media.
Some media outlets hinted that they had no ethical qualms about the interviews with family since they willingly agreed to be interviewed. However, it is precisely the duty of journalists and editors to evaluate the situation more objectively than the family members. They have a duty to know when an interview is ethically permissible, necessary and does not cause further harm. When doing the interview, they should know which questions to ask and which not to. Breaching these rules is never justified regardless of the event. Not everyone understands that life continues beyond the media spectacle.
The way this event was covered by the media goes beyond the discussion of journalistic standards. The way the media reports influences the shaping and orientation of public discussion. What we saw the other day is that the media made everyone feel that they have the right to judge and comment on a family’s personal decisions and decide whose suffering is more valuable.
Although this is not the first time that such sensitive events are exploited in the media, the way this event was covered risks setting a new standard in our media space and what the public can expect. Since yesterday, for journalists, everything is allowed. They can enter your private life and even report if someone wears diapers at night, all for the sake of “journalism.” But this is not journalism.
Feature Image: K2.0.