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Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 11:41 UK time, Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Among the audience response received by the BBC in the past 24 hours were many complaints that the Daily Politics had cut short Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague's speech on Tuesday to go to a live interview with former leader Michael Howard. Some Newsnight viewers expressed scepticism at the programme's coverage of climate change. We also received this e-mail:

    I would like to complain about your coverage of the school shooting at the Amish school. While I found your coverage very informative, I strongly object to your photographing adult Amish. Perhaps you are not familiar with Amish religious beliefs but they do not want to be photographed as a religious belief. To take their picture is to steal their soul.


  • 1.
  • At 12:07 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • John wrote:

That it very strange considering how many of them were quite happy to be interviewed. Perhaps you are forcing a perception of Amish people of which you know nothing?

  • 2.
  • At 12:40 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Gordon Riots wrote:

An interesting comment, however, 2 minutes online produced this:

From this site about the Pennsylvania Dutch:

Really? And?

Today I got some emails offering me Viagra.

Without you telling us your response to these viewers, then this post is just a list of stuff that happened. So what?

  • 4.
  • At 01:42 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • John R wrote:

The Pennsylvania Dutch do not believe that taking pictures of them "steals their souls"; having grown up in that area of the country I can confirm that while the Amish pursue a much simpler lifestyle than most they are neither as primitive nor as naive as some would make them out to be. They know what a camera is and what it does - they just don't wish to be photographed.

Indeed, given that many of the non-Amish locals make their living by promoting the Amish as a tourist attraction they are quite resigned to having their pictures taken against their will. Fortunately for the rest of us, they're willing to forgive us our rudeness.

  • 5.
  • At 01:53 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Gregg wrote:

The above comment is incorrect. The Amish do not believe that you are stealing their soul by taking their picture, rather you are creating a graven image which is a violation of the second commandment. Some Native Americans used to believe that a photograph was stealing their soul simply because they did not understand the technology.

If only American media were as compassionate as the BBC! You have provided great coverage of a very difficult story.

  • 6.
  • At 02:16 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • jane wrote:

The media seems to have a lack of respect for the beliefs and traditions of religious groups. I agree that photos of the Amish should not have been taken. This is the same principal as the publication of the cartoons disrespectfully depicting the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). In the Islamic faith depictions of Prophet (peace be upon him) is forbidden, although obviously this was a clear attempt to rile the musliims.

Perhaps in future, journalistic integrity should play a greater role and research should be done on what is acceptable to people of a certain faith.

  • 7.
  • At 02:22 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Roberto ARNO wrote:

I spent three days near Lancaster last May and was lucky enough to be introduced to an Amish family by the owner of the B&B where we were staying. Indeed, after two days he decided we were "civilised and interesting" enough to have such a priviledge.

Photography has nothing to do with religious belief, instead it depicts "vanity" and -similarly to buttons on shirts- some Amish communities despise this attitude.

  • 8.
  • At 03:06 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • jeff smith wrote:

Their beliefs should be respected. This isn't news in the sense it truly affects those other than the directly involved. The 'right to know" argument doesn't really hold up here. reporting the story is letting people know what happened NOT plastering misery across our screens. If people don't want their photographed you should not force the issue.

  • 9.
  • At 03:35 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Jason Bennett wrote:

The notion of having one's soul captured in a photo is, if I'm not mistaken, a belief of many primitive cultures, not the Amish. As to the journalist's contention that the Amish do not use electricity, that is not entirely correct. The Amish are not completely homogenous in their beliefs. Some use electricity produced by petrol generators. In this way, they say, they have it, but it does not have them. They limit its use and its effects on their lifestyle.

  • 10.
  • At 04:17 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Elizabeh Hagan wrote:

I think it is time for the media to leave the site of Nickel Mine so that these people can grieve in the manner they are accustom.

Furthermore, I think that other Americans and our country can learn a great deal from the Amish. Their way seems a more simple, non-violent way of dealing with grief and tragedy.

I respect them and acknowledge them for the way they live.

  • 11.
  • At 04:45 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Hulya wrote:

To believe the Amish do not permit photographs of themselves due to camera's "stealing souls" is to resist seeing the profoundness of their choice. They live a "simple" life; they are in the midst of every temptation, outlet, distraction, entertainment that we all possess but choose to direct their energies elsewhere. I think we should recognize their alternative lifestyle for what it is and not merely as exoticism.

  • 12.
  • At 05:05 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • evan wrote:

Coming from the BBC I'm surprised you aren't blaming Israel for all of this. You're not going to successfully hate jews in a politically correct fashion while contemplating Amish lifestyle. C'mon, chop chop! Get too it!

  • 13.
  • At 05:14 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Lydia wrote:

Gregg in #5 has it correct.

You are creating a graven image which is a violation of the second commandment.

I was raised Amish and having ones picture taken is definitely forbidden.

The Amish in the Nickel Mine District are of the more orthodox Amish and I'm sure the majority of them would object strongly to having their pictures taken.

Lancaster County has many tourists that come specifically to see the Amish. The majority of them respect the Amish and their beliefs but there are always a few people that are downright discourteous.

After I left the Amish and had my own car, I took my Mom and Dad many places. There always seemed to be a tourist who was so incredibly rude and would stick their cameras right in Mom or Dad's faces.

But the Amish are not going to riot and go beserk because someone took their picture.

  • 14.
  • At 05:30 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

I am surprised by the comment from Jane linking this to the Muslims reaction to the pictures of the "so-called" Prophet Mohammed.

In my eyes I do not see any link at all. This is a case of the media going into a community (in this case the Amish community) and doing their best to avoid causing ill-feelings or upset the residents.

The Mohammed cartoons issue was a western non-muslim nation's media exercising their right to free expression. The cartoons were not targeted for publication in muslim countries.

If it was a case of the media going into a muslim community with the sole purpose of causing offence then there would be a double standard.

The Muslims who caused the fuss have to understand that in the west we value our rights and freedoms the way they value their religion. We would not ask them to tone down or give up THEIR religious beliefs so why do they expect US to tone down on our freedoms - that is a case of double standards.

  • 15.
  • At 06:41 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • BB wrote:

If we had more people like the Amish, we'd have fewer wars.

I think we should all respect their beliefs during a difficult time and appreciate that reporters are doing their best to get the message across to a very 'visual' generation.

Having lived among the Amish for many years, I too can verify that it is not anything to do with the "soul" that the Amish don't wish to be photographed, nor anything about graven images, but instead a sign of vanity. They don't wear jewellery or make-up either, and only plain clothes are accepted. However, not all Amish abide by these restrictions. I've known many Amish who had their pictures taken, played on the computer, and drove cars. Like any other religious group, it too has its moderates.

  • 17.
  • At 08:10 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Leslie Anne wrote:

I'd like to add my two cents on the Amish photo discussion as I'm from a part of Pennsylvania with a large Mennonite population.

The "old order" Amish refrain from any modern conveniences and do not wish to have their photo taken. There are also the Mennonites, who have similar Anabaptist beliefs but are less conservative than the Amish. They do not prohibit the use of cars or electricity though they still maintain a "plain" lifestyle and dress. The Mennonites would be more accepting of having their photo taken.

  • 18.
  • At 09:33 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Jack from USA wrote:

Jane makes an interesting comparison between the Amish not wanting to be photographed and Muslims not wanting Mohammed depicted in an offensive cartoon. Taking someone's photograph and broadcasting it against his wishes is something most people consider a violation of one's personal privacy and dignity, moderately offensive in the case of grieving Amish. But criticizing an idea (including a religion), is an acceptable, even necessary, part of public discourse. That's the very essence of free speech. So while I would defend people's right to film the Amish or draw cartoons of Mohammed, I don't see these as the same... insulting a person directly versus crticizing his favorite religious figure. I also disagree with Jane that the Danish cartoons were a deliberate attempt to provoke Muslims. Rather they were a form of protest against intimidation of those who engage in free speech.

  • 19.
  • At 10:13 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • rich wrote:

I have heard from many muslims that they
believe that taking a photo of them may steal their soul. Maybe the person who made that comment is getting confused?

  • 20.
  • At 12:45 AM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • inlancaster wrote:

.. photos of the Amish should not have been taken. This is the same principal as the publication of the cartoons disrespectfully depicting the Prophet Muhammed..

Somewhat true, but when Amish conduct holy war - they walk around forgiving people like Christ.

  • 21.
  • At 01:14 AM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Dan Hess wrote:

I have to agree with one of the posts above. As a Mennonite who grew up in Lancaster County, I have appreciated BBC's coverage of this story. I have been impressed with the accuracy of the information regarding Amish beliefs and practices and have appreciated the sense of respect conveyed for them as a people in these reports. Many Americans are not so well informed! Also, I agree that the Amish do not use photography because of the Biblical command against "graven images."

  • 22.
  • At 01:17 AM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • taha wrote:

There is one simple way to report without offending... ask

  • 23.
  • At 05:26 AM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Betsy wrote:

The comment received by email is preposterous. The Amish do not make or keep photographs of themselves, as they believe one's personal appearance should not be a matter of pride or vanity.

They do not have a religious objection to being photographed by others.

Needless to say, any subject's privacy should be given due consideration. But this courtesy is a civil, not a religious matter.

  • 24.
  • At 02:36 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Jamie wrote:

Clearly there is a fine line here in what is offensive to this community and what is not. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, having Amish neighbors for 20 years of my life. Now, it's true, I'm not an expert on Amish beliefs, but I know a thing or two. Despite this, I decided to go straigt to the cource: I asked my neighbors their opinion about these families being photographed, and without hesitation, they stated that they thought it was inconsiderate to photograph these families. Sure you can find links to documented reasons why photographing is discouraged/prohibited, but truly no reason resounds more than the simple fact that these are simple people who chose to be separated from the world and from media. Has the BBC or any other news source photographed or placed a picture story of Amish people prior to this shooting? Not to my recollection..... These photographs, in my opinion, are purely for shock value or to add reader interest. I for one would be just as interested in the story without the photos, especially knowing the fine line that these photos have within Amish beliefs. Now is not the time to push offending their beliefs. Let these people grieve and leave them alone.

  • 25.
  • At 05:31 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Julian wrote:

Wow! Allegations of massive vote fraud and jobs-for-votes schemes in Georgia are all over the web, but not a peep from the BBC. It's becoming increasingly clear that if you want to get away with vote fraud, all you must do is create the appearance that you are staunchly pro-Western. I did not expect such partisanship from the BBC.

  • 26.
  • At 09:51 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Kathy wrote:

Having lived in the Phildelphia area for over 40 years, I can say that the Amish are occasionally in local news stories.

If the BBC reporters would have asked the local reporters they would have been given tips on how to handle the story, tastefully, and inoffensively, because they do it when there are stories in Lancaster County.

Local stories from the NBC affiliate in Lancaster & the various stations in Philadelphia showed the Amish at an unidentifiable distance, and some agreed to speak on camera, if they were shot from behind, so as not to produce a graven image.

Local Mennonites also spoke on camera, because their religious beliefs are more liberal.

BBC reporters would do themselves and their viewers a service if they would learn a little humility & ask local reporters when they cover local stories in the US. I have seen them mangle the pronunciation of the towns as well as the people who are the object of their reports.

I saw your coverage on the first day of the story at Nickel Mine & it was objectionable. The local reporters were there. They are not your competition. ASK.

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