The Zarqa crime: ethical violations and breaches of the law in publishing and commentary

Akeed – Dana Al Emam

A heinous criminal act that occurred on Tuesday in Zarqa governorate gained a massive attention from media outlets and social media users, with #Zarqa_crime becoming one of the most common topics across social media platforms. Such attention, in the form of publishing and commentary on the event, has entailed numerous ethical and professional violations and breaches of the law.

As soon as news of the atrocity began to spread, social media users - especially on WhatsApp - started sharing videos of a violent scene that depicts the victim in a state of extreme duress. The Public Security Directorate issued a statement warning against the circulation of any such images or videos.

Local media outlets committed several legal, professional and ethical violations, prioritizing the acquisition of journalistic scoops over the public interest. They obtained press statements from the boy who had been assaulted, and from his mother, without taking into account his physical health or their psychological states. Furthermore, media outlets reported on the terrible crime in graphic details and delved into the specifics of a case that is currently before the court. Several news websites also republished details of the vicious crime.

As the attorney Khaled Khleifat told Akeed, publishing images, videos, or hurtful depiction of the victim is a breach of the law, insofar as they harm his reputation and dignity, violate the Penal Code, and impact the litigation process.

With regard to social media users who have published photos of the alleged perpetrators of the attack on the boy, Khleifat said that it is forbidden to publish or circulate their photos as long as the case is under investigation. Official authorities such as the Public Security Directorate and the judiciary have not yet issued conclusive evidence that those pictured are the perpetrators. Persons who were thought to be the perpetrators whose pictures were published may be agitators, accomplices in the crime, or the perpetrators themselves.

According to Jawad Al Omari, a media instructor and consultant, it is illegal to depict the victim or a member of his family in a state of human duress. It is likewise forbidden to publish photos of grisly scenes or disseminate them on social media.

Al Omari explained that circulating pictures or videos of the offense, or reporting on it in graphic details, carries a very severe psychological impact. This is true both for adult viewers, who subsequently fear for their children, and worry about the security situation; and children themselves, who are reduced to a state of panic and terror by such footage. He added that this criminal act, due to its exceptionally horrific details, is impacting every segment and class of Jordanian society.

Akeed would like to remind media outlets and social media users of the need to respect people’s dignity and to not depict them in a state of duress. Moreover, it reiterates the need to adhere to legal, professional, and ethical standards, which include refraining from publishing grisly footage or commenting on cases still open before the courts.