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When a Picture is not Worth 1000 Words

By: EAS Staff Posted: January-01-2006 in
EAS Staff

A picture of the dead body of a young female traffic accident victim lying on the street. Is this an image from one of Cambodia's infamously graphic local newspapers? No, it is page 5 of the November 16 English-language Phnom Penh Post, and the editorial decision to use it has outraged many in the expatriate community.

French national Aurelia Lacroix, 28, died on November 14 in a tragic accident. Conflicting witness accounts say she may have been the victim of a bag snatch gone wrong, or that the back wheel of her moto may have been clipped by another bike overtaking too fast. Whatever the cause, she was thrown into the path of an oncoming minibus, and was killed instantly.

Many expatriates feel that if an image was necessary at all, a picture of a floral tribute at the accident site or an image of her provided by friends or family and full of life would have said much more about a woman who was obviously courageous, independent and filled with a sense of social conscience so powerful that she traveled to the other side of the world to help Cambodia.

The Post has previously delighted in lecturing the Cambodian press on ethics and values. However, tellingly, neither Cambodia's largest local newspaper, Rasmei Kampuchea, nor its nearest rival, Koh Santepheap - once nicknamed the "newspaper of blood" for its graphic images - ran pictures with their stories. Kampuchea Thmey newspaper also initially steered away from using a photograph, but changed its mind and ran a picture on November 17, quite possibly following what it saw as the English-language newspaper's lead.

"We were offered a photo but we made an immediate decision that it was inappropriate to use it," Penh Samithy, Rasmei editor-in-chief and president of the powerful Club of Cambodian Journalists told EAS. "It boiled down to privacy. In our opinion, privacy issues for the victim and her family far outweighed any need to illustrate the story."

Ironically, the Post ran the photograph the same day as Information Ministry Secretary of State Srey Channy addressed an international seminar of journalists in Siem Reap. His Excellency reminded journalists that they wielded considerable power, and with power came responsibility. Self regulation was integral to this responsibility, he said.

A spokesman for the French Embassy echoed those sentiments.

The Embassy of France shares the anger demonstrated by the expatriates residing in Phnom Penh following the publication of the photograph of the accident of Aurelia Lacroix in an English language newspaper.

The Embassy of France would like to express its outrage for the use of these methods and will be sure to protest to the management of the Phnom Penh Post and to the Cambodian authorities.

Aurelia's tragedy was one of hundreds of traffic fatalities in the capital every year. She was not a casualty of war or terrorism. She was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, applying the universal journalism codes of ethics, was printing this picture in the public interest, and was its inclusion necessary to assist the public's understanding of the story, or is it simply gratuitous?

On both counts, and especially for a family newspaper, many expatriates think this disturbing image falls outside not only those boundaries but the boundaries of good taste and common human decency.

EAS extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of a special young woman, and on behalf of those in the expatriate community, who believe printing a picture of such a woman stricken is a travesty, asks the Phnom Penh Post to print an apology.

The publisher of the Phnom Penh Post was contacted for comment but was unable to respond by the time EAS went to press. EAS has offered him equal space to reply to the article at any time he wishes to do so.

French Embassy Statement
L'Ambassade de France s'associe à la colère manifestée par les expatriés résidant à Phnom Penh devant la publication de la photo de l'accident d'Aurélia Lacroix dans un journal de langue anglaise du Cambodge.

L'Ambassade de France fait part de son indignation devant ces méthodes et ne manquera pas de protester auprès de la direction du Phnom Penh Post et des autorités cambodgiennes.


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