Thursday, September 08, 2005

FEMA now says photo restriction was request not directive

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Date: Thu, 8 Sep 2005 21:07:51 EDT

FEMA: Photo Request "Not a Directive"

By Meghan Martin (

A FEMA spokesman said Thursday that the agency hopes news organizations won't show dead bodies as part of their coverage of Hurricane Katrina, but acknowledged that such coverage decisions lie with editors, not government officials.

"Decisions about running photos are up to members of the news media," said Mark feifle. "Out of respect for the deceased [and their families] ... FEMA has asked that images not be shown. But it's up to the media whether they're shown or not."

"There's not a directive," he said. "It's just a request that FEMA people have made to members of the media."

This clarification follows a Reuters report earlier in the week ( ) that a FEMA spokeswoman said the agency "does not want the news media to take photographs of the dead as they are recovered from the flooded New Orleans area."

Pfeifle said FEMA does not prohibit the collection of these images. However, the agency is not making it easy for journalists to photograph them, either.

A Reuters reporter was refused space on a FEMA rescue boat in New Orleans this week. A FEMA spokeswoman told Reuters later that the reporter was not allowed to join rescuers because they needed space on their boats.

This is not the first time FEMA has made such a request, Pfeifle said. It is a typical agency response, made out of concern for the dignity of the deceased and their families, he said.

"We don't want ... the situation to occur where an individual who's searching for their loved one ... finds out the news of a loved one's passing on the television or in a newspaper," he said. The request is not something that the agency plans to enforce.

"How does one enforce it? It's up to members of the media to print or not print a photo," Pfeifle said. "There's nothing to prevent the member of the media from taking photos. That's the First Amendment." As word of the request made its way through the journalism community this week, many have reacted to the idea of censoring images ( , including Poynter faculty. Here is what they said:Kenny Irby, Visual Journalism Group Leader ( I am strongly opposed to a government organization making such a request and even more disappointed by any attempts to enforce it. This is very similar to our national policy prohibiting the photographing of fallen United States soldiers -- killed in the line of duty in the Middle East.

This appears to be an overt attempt by FEMA to minimize the visual impact of this tragedy. The public needs to see the impact of our inadequate planning and deficient response to this national disaster. It is the media's responsibility to report on and present this horrific story with compassion and sensitivity for the stakeholders.

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