IN KYUNG LEE AGAINST THE PRESSBackground
In Kyung Lee is a New Zealand Korean living in Christchurch where another Korean family died in particularly sad circumstances in May. Mr Lee complained at the publication of photos of the two girls who had died, and of a photograph taken of the father before his death. The complaint is not upheld.
The complainant said it was considered disrespectful in Korean culture to publish photographs of the deceased in the media, the more so when the dead man in this case had requested privacy when he was still alive.
Young Jin-Baek, was in South Korea when his wife, Sung Eun Cho, and their two daughters, Kelly Yeon Sue Baek, aged 13, and Holly Yeon Jae Baek, 17, were all found dead in their Avonhead home on May 5. The police said no other person was involved.
Young Jin-Baek, arrived in Christchurch on May 7, a Friday. The funeral was arranged for Sunday.
On Sunday morning, a few hours before the service, Mr Baek was found dead in his car at an Avonhead shopping centre.
Mr Baek's funeral was held on the Tuesday. That evening Mr Lee emailed the Fairfax Group online editor objecting to the use of photographs of the dead on the Stuff website, asking that they be removed, and that they not appear in the next morning's edition of The Press. The message was copied to the email address of an editorial administration assistant at The Press.
Two days later, having had no reply from either, Mr Lee complained to the Press Council. Mr Lee later received a response from the editor, which did not satisfy him, and he asked the Press Council to proceed with the complaint.
Mr Lee said he was, "disappointed in The Press editor's failure to consider the cultural implications of using the deceased family's photos.” He said, "It is considered quite disrespectful in the Korean culture to use the deceased's photos in the media, and more so when Mr Baek had requested privacy when he was still alive."
He added that the request for privacy was made known to the website and the newspaper, and the request had even been noted in a previous article, and yet photographs were published.
The Newspaper's Response
The editor of The Press, Andrew Holden, told the Council the newspaper had been aware of the sensitivities in the Korean community ever since the three bodies had been found on May 5. It had been in almost daily contact with a spokesman for the Korean community, Kevin Park.
The Press had tried to find a balance between what is acceptable in New Zealand and not offensive in Korean culture.
"As I explained to Mr Park, the Korean people are part of our wider community and we try to treat them with respect, but their needs sometimes clash with the needs of our news organisation to inform our wider society, who understandably demand information around four bodies found in our city." Mr Holden said.
Discussions with Mr Park had persuaded The Press to remove a picture of Mr Baek from its website while his relatives were in the city. Mr Park had said he would get a more suitable photograph of Mr Baek for publication after the relatives had left.
When no photo was forthcoming once the relatives had gone, the original photo was put back on the website, "because the news value of the story and the picture remains extremely high," said Mr Holden.
He added that paper had used pictures of the daughters only once, "as their pictures were sitting among a flower tribute at their house. Mr Park had never raised any concerns about using pictures of the girls. His only concern was around the picture of the grieving Mr Baek taken at the airport."
The Complainant's Response
Mr Lee told the council his compatriot Mr Park had not adequately represented the Korean view to The Press. He said Mr Park had not had time to consult the community in this case and "gather consensus".
He wanted to know why the newspaper considered the photographs to have "high news value" They certainly did not have that value to those who had expressed concern. He had no wish to obstruct press freedom but the editor had not explained why the news could not be delivered in words alone.
Although pictures of the dead were sitting among floral tributes at their home, he said, "personal tribute by family and friends is not considered the same as articles written (or photos used) by third party news agencies."
If the editor needed to be satisfied that his complaint represented more than an individual concern, the editor ought to say so and he would invite the wider community to give him feedback.
The Council has no doubt the publication of the photograph caused widespread concern among the Christchurch Korean community.
But it is not as clear that the case involves a particular cultural tapu. The complainant says Korean culture permits pictures of the deceased to be displayed by friends and family at funerals but not to be published by "third party news agencies".
The general principles applied by the Press Council call for publications to give "special consideration" to those suffering grief or trauma. The Press did that in this case, removing the offending photos from its website while the relatives of the deceased were in its circulation area.
The question for the Council is whether it should have removed them permanently out of cultural respect, and whether newspapers should not publish pictures of the deceased when Korean deaths are newsworthy.
A finding of that nature would be a serious infringement of press freedom. Pictures of the deceased are an important element of reporting a tragedy such as this.
The Council is reluctant to discourage newspapers from carrying compelling pictures where Koreans are concerned. It finds The Press treated this case with due sensitivity to the relatives of the deceased.
A ruling that would restrict press freedom on the ground of cultural sensitivity should not be made unless the Council is convinced the particular culture's sensitivity is more than the disapproval common in all cultures of many things a free press may do.
In the circumstances the complaint is not upheld.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson (Chairman), Ruth Buddicom, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.
Pip Bruce Ferguson abstained from ruling on the complaint