Dead Infant: Media Coverage Violates Sanctity of Dead and Lacks Balance

AKEED, Husam Assal

Media outlets committed an ethical violation in the middle of last week by posting a video clip showing the face of a dead newborn, having been placed in a refrigerator that is not for the dead at a private hospital in Zarqa Governorate. Also, media outlets did not show balance in handling the issue, which has provoked public opinion.

Electronic sites, and a daily newspaper, released the video clip that shows the face of the child on a large scale without heeding the sanctity of the dead. Meanwhile, some sites covered the face of the child. Other sites covered the face of the child after showing it in the beginning.

The video clip, which spread on electronic sites and social media platforms, showed a nurse at a hospital removing the body of a child from a small refrigerator, which is not for keeping the dead, and a person filming the child and revealing his face, which appears clearly in the clip. In the clip, the person is also heard criticizing the hospital for not having a morgue refrigerator and hurling obscene insults at it.

Electronic sites began talking about the incident after the spread of the video clip, confirming that the incident occurred at a private hospital in the city of Zarqa. They said that the reason for this is that the hospital lacked a special morgue refrigerator since the hospital had an old license based on a regulation that did not set a condition of having a morgue refrigerator.

Some websites said that this refrigerator was used for storing food, while other websites said that the refrigerator was used for storing medicines and that the hospital administration explained to the parents of the child that this refrigerator was used for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Some websites reported that two nurses were fired because of the incident.

Hatem Azrae, press spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told several websites that an investigation was launched into the incident. Hikmat Abu al Ful, head of the Directorate of Licensing and Health Professions at the Ministry of Health, told one of the websites that the incident was "a crime and an outright violation of the laws and regulations that regulate the work of hospitals."

In another statement, Abu al Ful added that the child was two hours old and that he died due to difficulty in breathing during birth. He added that the minister of health was planning to hold a meeting to decide on the necessary penalties. Meanwhile, one website said that the dead child was two years old although it shows in the clip as a newborn.

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) contacted Hatem Azrae, press spokesman for the Ministry of Health, who confirmed that the video clip was true. He said: "The video shows a dead newborn placed in a small refrigerator because the hospital did not have a morgue refrigerator."

He pointed out that the 2014 instructions on licensing private hospitals stated that the hospital must have a morgue refrigerator and that the ministry had given hospitals to which the new licensing instructions did not apply one year to rectify their situation. He confirmed that the recent instructions applied to private hospitals that had old licenses.

On why the hospital continued to operate although it has exceeded the one-year deadline without rectifying its situation, he said that "the minister of health ordered that a committee be formed to inspect the hospital and referred the hospital to the Private Hospitals Committee."

Azrae sent a statement to media outlets, including a decision by the minister of health to close the hospital until it rectifies its situation based on the instructions of private hospitals. The decision stated that the closure would take place once the treatment of patients currently at the hospital ends so that there will be no patient when implementing the closure decision.

Article 9, Paragraph K of Regulation of Private Hospitals No. 54 of 2014 requires that "there must be a morgue refrigerator" at the hospital. Also, the provisions of Article 19 state that "a private hospital that is licensed before the provisions of this law take effect shall rectify its situation in accordance with its provisions with the exception of the condition pertaining to the number of beds within no more than one year from the date of issuing this regulation."

Many media outlets have not discussed the legal implications of the licensing instructions. Some media articles suggested that the licensing of the hospital was old and that new instructions on the need for a morgue refrigerator did not apply to it, while other websites said that the new instructions applied to the hospital and required having that refrigerator.  

Khaled Qudah, member of the Jordan Press Association, told AKEED that media outlets may not show the face of a dead person and that this would violate his sanctity. Also, the media must be stricter when it comes to showing pictures of the dead, women, children, people with special needs, old people, those who appear to be in a state of weakness, and those who receive assistance.

Qudah added that showing the picture in this manner did not achieve a public interest, especially since this could have an effect on the parents and relatives of the child. This means that it could do more harm than good. The media would have achieved a public interest and served an ethical aspect by covering the face of the dead child.

Qudah said that the fact that the parents of the child allowed the publishing of the picture did not constitute a justification for showing it, especially since the ethics of publishing photos and press coverage prevent this. The parents might not be aware of the seriousness of the matter. Besides, journalists have to be aware of media ethics and laws so as to know how to handle similar cases.

Osamah Rifai, photographer in Al Ghad newspaper, told AKEED that posting the video clip that shows the face of the dead child violated the sanctity of the dead and that media outlets must protect their sanctity and observe the ethics of the profession and not carry the clip. He added that media outlets that release such clips and photos are looking for fame.

Many media outlets did not omit the swearing and obscene insults at the end of the clip, which are offensive to public morals and the decency of viewers, especially since having these insults does not serve the case or public interest at all. Besides, the coverage lacks "the standard of balance" in presenting sources and giving space to all relevant parties.

The AKEED Monitor thinks that the media coverage of the issue of the dead infant included numerous violations, key of which were showing the dead child in the video clearly by some media outlets, which violates the sanctity of the dead, and not respecting human dignity, according to the Standards for Verifying Credibility, Professionalism and Performance of Media. In addition, this could harm the parents of the child, even if some of them allowed showing the clip, besides causing shock and distress to viewers.