A recent New York Times article about the retrieval of the bodies of three Indian climbers who died on Mount Everest has garnered a wide readership and sparked a debate on the ethics of publishing images of their bodies.
In emails to The Times and in comments posted on the article, readers mostly praised the story’s vivid images and videos, but some objected to the visuals depicting the dead climbers. (Comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
We all know what death is and how terrible it is, and we don’t need a visual. Even worse, images of the dead are disrespectful to them and their memory. — Ed Fallin, in a letter to the editor.
These photographs and videos literally took my breath away and made me feel I was standing on or climbing up Everest. Christopher Lehfeldt from Rochester, N.Y.
Dawa Finjhok Sherpa recorded the retrieval of the deceased climbers from the mountain, and a Times photographer, Josh Haner, covered their arrival in Kathmandu, Nepal, and return to India. In a Times Insider piece, John Branch, the reporter of the story, wrote about the measures he and Josh took to cover this logistically challenging and emotional story.
From left, Sunita Hazra, Goutam Ghosh, Paresh Nath and Subhas Paul shortly before their summit attempt at Mount Everest in May 2016. Credit Sunita Hazra
As the layout came together, the editor of the Sports desk, Jason Stallman, said many people, including John, Josh, a photo editor and The Times’s standards editor, were involved in numerous conversations about how to present the piece visually. Jason explained their image selection process.
The first question is always, are the images newsworthy? In this case, the answer was unmistakably yes. The entire piece was centered on the dead bodies.
The next question is, how do the families feel about it? In this case, both families were not only agreeable but were encouraging.
When the body of Goutam Ghosh, one of the deceased climbers, arrived at his home, for instance, the room where they took the body for his wife and mother to see for the first time was overflowing — the family had to keep some people out. But they pulled John and Josh in so they could capture the scene.
Then we consider whether the images will be seen as inappropriate by our readers. This is the toughest question, of course, because all of our readers don’t have the same sensibility or response to such images. We felt that the images we published were appropriate for this article, but we certainly appreciate that some readers might disagree.
Jason added that John received an email on Tuesday from Debasish Ghosh, Goutam’s brother.
“Thanks for your great deed, and we (Goutam’s family) are grateful to you for your honest efforts of a true report,” he wrote.
Paul Pottinger, a Seattle doctor who encountered the Indian climbers on Mount Everest before they died and was interviewed for the story, defended the images, in response to a reader who asked if The Times would have published photos of his body had he died.
The author and photographer may reply for themselves, but I know for sure that they approached this question with great respect, reverence and consent from the heartbroken families of the fallen.
As the person in question, I can answer your other question: My family and I would never mount a recovery expedition if I had died that day. But, if I had died and photos of my body were taken up there, my family would support their publication if it helped convince others not to attempt the mountain without proper preparation, resources and respect for the expertise of the guides.
Source: New York Times