No pictures of dead Katrina victims, FEMA asks

Thursday, September 8, 2005

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked the news media to refrain from photographing bodies of people killed in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, the Reuters news agency reported this week.

FEMA, which heads the rescue operations, refused journalists’ requests to be allowed to ride on rescue boats searching flooded areas for storm survivors and victims, according to Reuters in a dispatch on Sept. 6.

A FEMA spokeswoman, in an e-mail reply to the news service's query, said the rescue boats could not spare space for journalists, and added, “We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media.”

“The recovery of the victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect,” the FEMA spokeswoman also told Reuters in the e-mail.

Some journalist groups yesterday protested FEMA’s request.

“It's impossible for me to imagine how you report a story whose subject is death without allowing the public to see images of the subject of the story,” Larry Siems of the PEN American Center told Reuters.

Rebecca Daugherty of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said: “You cannot report on the disaster and give the public a realistic idea of how horrible it is if you don't see that there are bodies as well.”

However, some noted that the FEMA request fell short of any kind of ban on photos of bodies. The New York Times has published several since the disaster struck last week. Other news outlets, broadcast as well as online, have shown pictures of shrouded corpses.

Reuters quoted Mark Tapscott, a former Washington Times editor now with the Heritage Foundation, as saying the FEMA move was not censorship but a plea for “common decency.”

“Nobody wants to wake up in the morning and see their dead uncle on the front page,” Tapscott told the news agency.

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