The crash of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which was shot down over Ukraine was a tragic event that shocked the world. But many news organizations and reporters did not practice good ethics after the event, which only made the situation worse for families and loved ones of the victims, as well as other professionals that were going through the wreckage.
Some of the ethical problems that occurred after the event were the instances of reporters such as Colin Brazier from Sky News and Australian reporter Phil Williams going through the dead passengers belongings and one Dutch reporter reading someone’s diary. While it might have made for a good story, these cases were very insensitive to the victims as well as the families, who had to deal with the personal thoughts and belongings of their dead loved ones shown and messed with on national TV.
Another facet of this is for law enforcement. They need to be able to have the scene entirely untouched, except for specially trained individuals, in order for them to piece together exactly what happened. They need to be able to take pictures and video for the purpose of being able to help bring justice to the victims of a crime, if possible. The journalists that went through the scene and moved objects were disturbing evidence that could have proved helpful to law enforcement in finding out what happened.
There was no reason for these journalists to go through these people’s belongings and read their personal thoughts. It is only OK to do something that might hurt people if it is needed to get the facts, if the story is important enough to warrant it and everything possible is done to minimize the hurt. The journalists of these three cases did not give enough consideration to the people that would be hurt and the consequences that they and the companies that they worked for faced were appropriate. These ethical violations were unnecessary for the story and cruel to the families and loved ones that had already been through a lot.
This event shows how, even in this era of 24 hour cable news and sensationalism in journalism, journalists need to remain ethical about how they report on stories, especially tragedies like what happened to flight 17. In the Sky News incident, Mr. Brazier commented while he was going through the luggage that he did not think that they should be going through the luggage of the victims, according to The Guardian. Journalists need to trust their instincts and common sense when reporting news because if doing something does not seem right it probably should not be done. Journalists should practice empathy in all circumstances. They should put themselves into the shoes of the family and loved ones and think about whether they would want a reporter to do that to their relative’s belongings.
Journalism is still a relatively free profession, with no official ethical code or many laws that control conduct. It is important that journalists use the freedom that they have to practice their profession ethically so that journalism can remain free in the future.