A freelance photographer at the centre of an ethical controversy after the New York Post published his photo of a man on a subway track before an oncoming train killed him defended his actions, before police announced that a man had been charged with murder.
The Post published a photo on its front page Tuesday of Ki-Suck Han, 58, with his head turned toward the train, his arms reaching up but unable to climb off the tracks in time. The photo was taken by R. Umar Abbasi, who was waiting to catch a train as the situation unfolded.
'It took me a second to figure out what was happening ... I saw the lights in the distance.'—R. Umar Abbasi, photography
Abbasi told NBC's Today show Wednesday that he wasn't trying to take a photo of the man, but was trying to alert the motorman to what was going on by flashing his camera.
He said he was shocked that people nearer to the victim did not try to help in the 22 seconds before the train struck.
"It took me a second to figure out what was happening ... I saw the lights in the distance. My mind was to alert the train," Abbasi said.
"The people who were standing close to him ... they could have moved and grabbed him and pulled him up. No one made an effort," he added.
CBC News journalistic calls involve finding a balance
CBC News, which is guided by its own Journalistic Standards and Practices, is not using photos of the New York subway-violence victim on the tracks — with the subway train closing in on him — in its ongoing coverage. That's because the balance in this case was between informing the public about what took place and consideration for the man who died.
The key element is straightforward: a man has been pushed onto subway tracks and killed by an oncoming train. So there was nothing to add to viewers' or readers' knowledge of the matter by running the picture, because there was no issue about whether the incident happened or not. On the other hand, there was a question of respect and consideration for the man who died, Mr. Ki-Suck Han, and for those close to him.
Our call is that while photos of the initial contact between Han and his assailant can be used, we won't be republishing the chilling image of him on the tracks.
— David Studer, CBC News, interim executive editor
Ethical and emotional questions arose Tuesday over the published photograph of the helpless man standing before the oncoming train accompanied by the headline that read in part: "This man is about to die."
The moral issue among professional photojournalists in such situations is "to document or to assist," said Kenny Irby, an expert in the ethics of visual journalism at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based nonprofit journalism school.
Other media outlets chimed in on the controversy, many questioning why the photograph had been taken and published.
"I'm sorry. Somebody's on the tracks. That's not going to help," said Al Roker on NBC's Today show as the photo was displayed Tuesday.
Abbasi said he did not control how the images were used in the Post, but he did tell the Today show he has sold the images.
Larry King reached out to followers on Twitter to ask: "Did the @nypost go too far?" CNN's Soledad O'Brien tweeted: "I think it's terribly disturbing — imagine if that were your father or brother."
The Post declined to share the photo with The Associated Press for distribution.
Man charged with murder
New York City police have arrested Naeem Davis on a charge of murder on Wednesday.
Davis, 30, had been taken into custody for questioning Tuesday. Police said security video showed a man fitting the suspect's description working with street vendors near Rockefeller Center.
Police said Davis made statements implicating himself in the crime.
Davis is in custody and it's not clear if he has a lawyer.
Witnesses told investigators they saw the suspect talking to himself Monday afternoon before he approached Han at the Times Square station, got into an altercation with him and pushed him into the train's path.
Han, of Queens, died shortly after being struck. Police said he tried to climb to safety but got trapped between the train and the platform's edge.
Subway pushes are feared but fairly unusual. Among the more high-profile cases was the January 1999 death of Kendra Webdale, who was shoved to her death by a former mental patient.
After that, the Legislature passed Kendra's Law, which lets mental health authorities supervise patients who live outside institutions to make sure they are taking their medications and aren't a threat to safety.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that he believed that "in this case, it appeared to be a psychiatric problem."
The mayor said Han, "if I understand it, tried to break up a fight or something and paid for it with his life."