One of the commuters on the Melbourne bus.
Do you stand back and take photos? Or do you help?

Have you ever looked at a photograph of a dying child or a wounded animal and wondered – how did that even get taken? How is it possible for a journalist or a photographer to stand by and take notes– or photographs – of a tragedy and not step in to help?

And now that every person, every where is a potential journalist – carrying a still and video camera around in their pocket in the form of a mobile phone – the line between when you should be allowed to record an event and when you should go to someone’s aid becomes even murkier.

Amateur video footage that has been posted on YouTube (you can view the video here  but please be warned it is quite distressing), which shows Melbourne commuters racially abusing a French woman on a bus – is going viral fast.

Three passengers begin yelling at the young woman who is quietly singing in her native tongue. One calls the French woman a bitch, then chants ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ and another yells at her to ‘speak English mother f*cker’. Slowly the abuse gets louder and fouler and increasingly out of control.

The video is not just making news here in Australia. It is being watched by horrified viewers all around the world.

The actions of those who were being abusive is unquestionably wrong but talk back radio across the country is buzzing this morning with a different question: What about the guy who filmed the whole incident and then made a YouTube movie out of it? What about the other commuters? What about the bystanders?

Did they have a duty to step in and help? Should they have gone to the woman’s aid? How is it possible that nobody stepped in

One of the commuters on the Melbourne bus.

to try and stop the abuse occurring?

Mamamia writer, Lucy Ormonde wrote about the duty of journalists and non-journalists to go to the aid of someone in trouble earlier this year. Here is what she had to say:

The responsibility of the bystander and the ethics of the amateur journalist: It’s a question that’s front of mind in India at the moment, after two journalists filmed a teenage girl being sexually assaulted by a group of up to 12 men on a busy street outside a bar.

The girl was assaulted for a period of about 45 minutes during which time the journalists (at least one of whom was off duty) continued filming – and did not step in to intervene.

The footage shot by the journalist and the cameraman was aired on news channels and according to The Guardian and it’s prompted a debate over the intended subject of women’s safety in India, but also the subject of whether journalists have an obligation to help.

This from the UK press:

In an interview with Indian media, the victim asked why the journalists did not intervene: “They were only taking pictures. Why could they not help me?”

Police have been criticised over their initial indifference towards the attack, which took place last Monday just minutes from the nearest police station in Guwahati, Assam.

Frustrated at police inaction in the days following the assault, residents put up “wanted” posters of the men caught on camera and circulated the images on social networking sites.

It’s a tough one. It really is. It’s a journalist’s job to report the story, not be the story. And if no one reports sexual assaults, the rest of the population is unaware and unable to act to eradicate. But what about journalistic ethics? But what about compassion? Especially when it comes to ordinary people – who aren’t journalists – with a camera phone? What about the victim of the attack? And what of a basic human instinct to want to help?

These pictures come via The Guardian. They’re from a gallery called ‘The Bystanders’ and they’re the kind of images we’re talking about. They’re from a series of stills taken by photographers who witnessed acts of war, the devastation of famine and acts of domestic violence – and didn’t step in to help.

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You can find that full gallery – and it really is worth a look because it challenges our notions about journalistic ethics – at The Guardian.

If you had been on the bus in Melbourne, what would you have done? Would you have gone to the French woman’s aid? Would you have called the police? Would you have just minded your own business?

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