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‘Using euphemistic photographs in news stories conceal severity of terror acts’

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Although Nigerian newspapers attempt to tell news stories with images that depict the social reality reported in the news, a new study has suggested the use of euphemistic photographs to tell stories about terror acts in order to avoid moral panic and continuous feeding of the mass audience with content injurious to their senses and emotion.

Euphemism is a literary device used for presenting and hiding a rather harsh, distasteful, and offensive concept or situation.

According to a study titled ‘Nigerian Newspapers’ use of euphemism in selection and Presentation of News Photographs of Terror Acts,’ conducted by Dr. Babatunde Ojebuyi of the Department of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan and Prof. Abiodun Salawu, using euphemistic photographs to tell stories about terror acts is a demonstration of ethical responsibility that has great implications for public peace, especially in an African country like Nigeria with security concerns.

By choosing images with nuanced configurations that are less likely to amplify moral panic or intensify horrid feelings, the authors, in their findings, explained that editors of selected newspapers expressed some ethical restraint in framing news stories about acts of terrorism by the Boko Haram sect.

By deploying the euphemistic approach, the authors of the study explained that the sampled images do not convey the same level of raw, graphic messages that the stories textually captured, adding that the interaction between the images and the viewers may not produce the same degree of negative responses, as the stories in text would do.

The study employed critical visual analysis (CVA) method to examine how editors of the select newspapers used photographs in framing their news stories about terror act of the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria and obtained data from the online sites of five Nigerian newspapers – The Punch, The Sun, Vanguard, Premium Times, and Sahara Reporters.

According to them, “Different news images with close shots and highly revealing camera angles, exposing the grim fatalities and graphic images of the victims in the stories, would have increased the negativity of the stories and aggravated the prevalent sense of horror and insecurity in the region and across the country.

“The editors’ decisions to conceal the severity of the incidents are justified by the tenet of Aristotle’s golden mean, which prescribes that when the moral agent is taking decisions, character (virtue) should be placed above extreme obedience to rules by striking the balance between presentation of facts and respecting the audience’s sensibility.”

Ojebuyi and Salawu, however, advised news editors to respect the dignity of both the mass audience and the human subjects of their news stories, saying that as gatekeepers, “they must never fail to handle photographs properly while presenting their stories; they must be wary of how they use citizen-shot images, which in most cases do not conform to the professional standards of facts, neutrality, and detachment.”


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