The bystanders: are they really innocent?

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?

I mean, 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?

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.

Most of the men have now been arrested over the attack (most were arrested thanks to identification via social media). And according to the reports, the footage of the attack has “highlighted the dangers of being a woman in the world’s biggest democracy.

But the employer of the journalists who filmed the attack has been forced to defend its staff.

The victim told local media that the attack went on for “about 45 minutes” and that she would have been raped had the police not eventually come to her aid.

NewsLive channel, whose journalists filmed the attack, defended its staff for not intervening. “Some [media] questioned me as to why my reporter and camera person shot the incident and didn’t prevent the mob from molesting the girl,” tweeted its editor-in-chief, Atanu Bhuyan. “But I’m backing my team since the mob would have attacked them, prevented them from shooting, that would have only destroyed all evidence.”

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. 

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

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? What about the victim of the attack? And what of a basic human instinct to want to help?

Is it ever justifiable to take a moment to record the situation before you take action 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 – what should our first reaction be?

We’re keen to know your thoughts. Do bystanders have a duty to step in and help?