Reuters photographers are at the front lines of war and disaster, capturing images that can be disturbing, especially when they depict children swept up in humanitarian crises. Decisions to distribute these photos are taken seriously by Reuters. We understand that images of suffering children can produce powerful -- and, at times, negative -- reactions among viewers.
This photo essay tells the story of Jamila Ali Abdu, a girl in Yemen whose suffering through war, disease and hunger ended with her death this week from worms caused by malnutrition. Reuters aims to give our customers, including newspapers, websites and other news organizations, high-quality images from conflict zones that tell a story fairly and honestly while not shying away from what may be considered graphic. Our customers decide whether or not to use our images.
In Jamila’s case, a Reuters photo of the emaciated child went viral. The image of the dying girl, eye lids drooping as her will to live faded, put her at the center of coverage of Yemen’s civil war. Reuters strove to sensitively present all of the photos in this essay, including her burial. Read the story www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-malnutrition-idUSKBN17Z1GY. In one image, a brightly colored blanket leads the viewer’s eye away from the stricken face of Jamila to the clean blue bed cover, a symbol that she is being cared for. In another, we see her tiny body being lowered into the grave, a final flick of cloth as the slow shutter speed captures the moment.
Every Reuters image is vetted by two editors before it is distributed. At each stage they ask questions including: Is this accurate? Is this fair? Images of death and injury carry the warning: ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY. Reuters editors sometimes decide not to distribute especially unsettling images.
In addition, our photographers usually come from the region in which they work. They understand local customs and laws pertaining to photographing people. For example, in much of the Middle East pictures of women and children may only be taken with the permission of parents, or people considered elders of a community.
Photographers take many pictures and generally send a selection to an editor who considers substance, balance, fairness, to find vivid images that tell the story best.
Reuters photographers and picture editors come to war and disaster aiming to be bias-free. They walk a fine line, neither sanitizing nor sensationalizing what the world sees.