Less than an hour after Thursday morning’s fatal collision between an SUV and a pedestrian on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, amateur video of the accident scene had ricocheted around the island.
Thirty seconds of video, shared a countless number of times through social media and messaging apps, showed a woman’s lifeless body and a man overwhelmed by grief, horror and remorse.
Based on the circumstances of the tragic incident, and the preliminary information coming from sources, it is essential to note we have received no indication of negligence or wrongdoing on the part of the SUV driver. We believe in this instance it is especially appropriate to emphasize and respect the concept of innocence until proven otherwise.
On the other hand, a prima facie and damning case (social, not legal) can and should be made as to the inappropriateness of the aforementioned video, which traveled around the country and across the world in the immediate aftermath of the sorrowful accident, including quite possibly to family, friends, loved ones and colleagues of the 56-year-old woman (a local resident from the Philippines) before officials were able to confirm her identity and notify – with the appropriate decency, dignity and grace – her immediate relatives of their heartrending loss.
The “poster” of the video displayed an insensitivity and lack of empathy and compassion that might be associated more with unthinking animals than supposedly “evolved” human beings.
As journalists, we frequently encounter graphic or grisly scenes – the result of accidents, violence or natural disasters – that, quite frankly, we’d rather not.
“If it bleeds, it leads” may be an oft-repeated mantra about the media, but we can assure our readers that the Cayman Compass will never partake in that kind of journalism. We are conscientiously conservative in our news coverage and rarely publish potentially disturbing images – and never without careful consideration that leads us to conclude that an overriding public interest outweighs an individual’s right to privacy, any potential harm, and our general standards of “good taste.”
The amateur video of last week’s accident scene was not published by local media. It was consumed and regurgitated via the ubiquitous and collectively anonymous network of “social media,” wherein each person who decided to pass along the footage acted as an ersatz publisher, minus the training, experience and ethical conscientiousness required to make the sorts of news judgments that leaders of “responsible” media outlets make routinely every day.
This is not an isolated occurrence. On a regular basis, photos and video of crime scenes, accidents and gruesome tragedies are circulated by would-be “citizen-documentarians.” We do not challenge people’s right to observe and record in public places (in fact, we are vociferous defenders of such rights), but let us be clear that material such as the video of last week’s accident scene does not even remotely approach the level of “journalism.” It is far closer to virtual and electronic voyeurism of the worst order.
We condemn – without apology or reservation – those complicit in perpetuating such a coarsening of our society.