The FBI called off a global manhunt for two men who looked Middle Eastern and were on board the Washington State Ferry last summer. These men were found to be innocent tourists on a business trip snapping photos, and not displaying “an inordinate interest in the operation of the shipboard systems”.
But before this came to light, the newspapers faced a dilemma of publishing the photos of these men as this violated civil rights and infringed on one’s privacy. Yet in the blogosphere, freedom of speech reigned.
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights and advocacy group, criticized the blogosphere’s response to the situation:
“Anti-Muslim Internet hate sites; the bloggers; the ones that routinely say ’round up the usual Muslim suspects’; the extremist commentators that would be willing give up the rights of others to create a false sense of security for themselves.”
The blogger, Michelle Malkin, criticized the P-I’s decision by saying:
“Ignoring the very real threat of ferry-based terrorism, the Seattle P-I refused to run the FBI photos in a politically correct pique and instead made light of the matter by holding an idiotic haiku contest about the alert”
This debate about whether or not to publish the pictures really boils down to journalism ethics and the potter box guidelines. If the P-I’s loyalty is to the public safety, the editor will share the same sentiments as Malkin. But if their loyalty is to the individual’s rights, then the editor would not publish the photos to protect the suspects’ privacy and give them the benefit of the doubt that they are innocent till proven guilty.
In the new age where the world is shrouded in fear against terrorism, journalists would have to rethink their loyalties and make ethical decisions that are complex. It makes it harder when we often come under scrutiny by the public, whose fear for their safety is not unfounded. It is a decision we all have to juggle with in future.