Treating an emergency sensitively

By Andrew Bonallack

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How far do the media intrude?
How far do the media intrude?

The question of the extent media intrude on privacy becomes a hot-blooded one when it comes to roadside accidents.

Contrary to popular belief, we don't literally chase ambulances. Medical events are private and nobody's business. A person is entitled to have a heart attack on their own time. They haven't done anything wrong (apart, perhaps, from not following a doctor's advice). Their medical event doesn't involve or inconvenience the wider public.

Car crashes are another matter. You can't have a two-car collision on a busy street and expect the rest of the world to carry on with its business. Police are fond of saying there are no "accidents" when it comes to car collisions. Someone is at fault and that is of concern. The ripple of that crash, on a public road, affects and disrupts hundreds of people.

How far do the media intrude? The two-car crash on Chapel St on Monday, which I covered, involved fire crew and ambulance crew extracting an injured driver from a vehicle. That person is, of course, helpless and probably in pain.

One bystander, taking exception to my photography, firmly planted himself in front of me and started making threats, with a hand up to block the view of the lens.

I retreated to the safety of a police officer, who shooed the man away with the admonishment "you are impeding his right to photograph".

The right of the press to take photos while standing in a public place is a long-standing one, subject to specific direction from police and emergency services. But I can't blame the bystander for taking exception to the press snapping away, and standing up for someone who physically is in no position to say no.

Our argument is we photograph at the scene and capture everything. It is a chance to show emergency services at their best, and photographs of the professionalism of paramedics, police and firecrew is reassuring to readers. But we are also mindful we are showing people at their worst, and relatives will see these photographs. So, a lot of the time, the degree of trauma is minimised.

The victim is obscured or pixelated. We may mask out licence plates. On the scene, we do our job and it may look insensitive. But back in the office, we do think about what is actually in the public interest. We do care.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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