Ethical questions raised by photojournalist’s child sacrifice story

The story in the headline refers to Marco Vernaschi’s Pulitzer Center-funded project on child sacrifice. The project has generated several reports, including graphic images of child victims, and much criticism of Vernaschi’s reporting methods and ethics in obtaining the images and the role of the Center. His photographing of the exhumed body of one of the victims in particular has sparked debate – read Ben Chesterton’s post here and Roy Greenslade’s piece here for the full background.

The Pulitzer Center released its own statement on the project earlier this week from executive director Jon Sawyer, which is well worth a read in full and makes some interesting points in the challenge of multi-platform publishing and freelance networks of contributors to ethics:

We regret any damage that may have been caused. We intend to continue this project, documenting the phenomenon of child sacrifice, but in so doing we will redouble our efforts to authenticate every claim and to insure the privacy rights of individual victims.

In the course of this project so far we have learned some painful, useful lessons about the ambiguous intersections of freelance journalism, blog posts and articles that are published or broadcast.

The Pulitzer Center has worked with dozens of journalists over the past four years, funding travel and providing initial editorial guidance but then partnering with established newsmedia outlets around the world. This has provided multiple layers of editorial review and control, with the goal of insuring  compliance with the highest editorial standards.

The growth of the Pulitzer Center has resulted in our website becoming a significant outlet itself, especially our Untold Stories blog that features reports from the field by our journalist grantees. Given the increasing prominence of this platform we will be making our own standards more explicit, as a guide to our journalists and guarantee to readers.

One thought on “Ethical questions raised by photojournalist’s child sacrifice story

  1. Benjamin Chesterton

    Thanks for putting this up Laura. I think its an important issue worth debating.

    To update it turns out the Pulitzer Centre knew that not only were Vernaschi’s photos captured in a manner that beggars belief, but also he has been unrealiable in giving a consistant account of the events. First captioning the picture of the girl saying she had her heart cut out, and her brain removed and was raped. Forensics says otherwise.

    People can read more here:

    http://untoldstories.pulitzercenter.org/2010/04/uganda-babirye-the-girl-from-katugwe.html

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