BY GWEN LISTER – Controversy, and in certain cases, public outrage, frequently results following the posting of graphic images online or in print. This, in addition to the hurt and pain that may be caused by the invasion of privacy of those who are the target or subject of such photos or memes, and families who may be adversely affected as a result.

It is for these and other reasons that a majority of traditional media allow themselves to be guided by a code of conduct which provides ethical direction for journalists as they do their work.

In the spirit of this code, The Editors’ Forum of Namibia (EFN) this week expressed opposition to the online posting on Facebook by Informant√© (which is not an EFN member) of an image of Ivan Pitt who hanged himself after brutally murdering his girlfriend. The editors’ forum said the publication of the image was not in the public interest, but instead claimed that the aim of the posting was to sensationalise breaking news and use the graphic content to gain clicks.

While I have not yet read the weekly’s explanation for the posting, I surmise they will cite their warning about sensitive content, which left the choice with the user to open the image or not. But they might also raise the issue of widespread violent and escalating attacks on women as the rationale for picturing a dead perpetrator and/or that such imagery may deter would-be GBV attackers.

I am not convinced that this is good enough and/or either that the public interest could be served in any way if indeed these are their reasons.

This having been said, (most) traditional media have to account for their actions, in one way or another, whether on or offline. If they don’t voluntarily subject themselves to the system of self-regulation presided over by the media ombudsman, then they can quite conceivably face legal challenges as a result of their decisions regarding both words and images.

Social media, on the other hand, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp, is awash with gratuitous images and videos and questionable content, which people on those fora freely post or share without concern or consequence. The internet is becoming increasingly ungovernable in this regard, and it is clear something needs to be done to guide users to reputable and verifiable sites of news and information which are not simply purveyors of disinformation and questionable content.

Media literacy may help to some extent about what the ultimate cure could be but answers continue to elude those concerned about a world flooded with propaganda, falsehoods and deceptions as well as offensive content. This is one of the most key questions of our era.

But back to journalism itself. It must be said that the code of conduct are guidelines, not cast in stone, and there are grey areas open to interpretation. For every rule there is an exception, and there will always be situations where the public interest may require the media to override these recommendations with regard the privacy, dignity, and reputation of individuals as well as violent and graphic content.

In such cases, the medium in question must explain itself and the reasons for their decision and open itself up to public questioning and debate as a result.

But it is an inescapable fact that such content is out there in abundance for those who wish to seek it out. The onus remains with the individual him or herself to identify good content and reputable sites, and to reject that which is fake and/or shocking, or abusive or hurtful or just plain rubbish, and to be circumspect themselves when posting or sharing these online.

* Follow me on Twitter: @GwenLister1