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“She has violated the boy’s privacy”

Maxim: the press coverage of the Tripoli air crash was pure sensationalism

The interview with the only survivor of the air crash in Tripoli – the nine-year-old boy Ruben – has cost Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf thousands of subscribers (670,000 copies a day). Many people were very critical about the press coverage – not only by De Telegraaf but also by other Dutch media – of the accident that killed 103 people, including 70 Dutch. They called it sensationalism, irresponsible and a violation of privacy. So are they right or wrong?

Marcel Schrijnemaekers, a former journalist and now head of marketing and communication at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, is quite clear: “The role of the press is to inform society, not to act as a pimp for voyeurism. But that’s indeed what is happening; in the hands of some media, journalism is increasingly threatening to deteriorate into a peepshow, where individuals’ most intimate affairs – whether they’re public figures in the Netherlands or not – are put on display under the guise of the free dissemination of news. But it’s mistaken to make De Telegraaf the scapegoat here. Society as peepshow has been around for some time now, and it would be nice if the fuss over the nine-year-old boy got more people thinking than those relatively few Telegraaf readers who’ve now cancelled their subscriptions.”
“It’s a difficult matter”, says Laura van Doorn, a second-year student of Fiscal Law. “Freedom of the press is very important, in my opinion. But what’s the added value of interviewing such a little boy? I knew already that he was doing reasonably well. I heard that the journalist who interviewed the child told the doctor that she was part of the boy’s family. That’s something you just don’t do. She has violated his privacy.” Only when such an interview really reveals something new that’s in the public interest does Van Doorn consider it acceptable.
Simone Ickenroth, graduate of Health Sciences, also has to think long and hard about her answer. Freedom of the press is of course important, she thinks. But: “One thing I know for sure: the media should have left the child alone. We’re talking about a wounded boy, who has lost his parents and brother in a severe accident and is lying in a hospital in a foreign country, and then some sensation-seeking journalist comes along and interviews him. She’s not talking to him because she wants to help him.” And there was something else that Ickenroth thought was rather strange. “The media all jumped down one another’s throats. For example, Dagblad De Limburger attacked De Telegraaf, but at the same time published all the facts from the same awful interview. That’s also wrong.”

 

Riki Janssen

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