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Ethical Considerations in Publishing News Images Essay Sample

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Ethical Considerations in Publishing News Images Essay Sample

Publishing a news image has become even more complicated since the new digital age and the rise in social media, which means that photojournalists now have to consider the ethical decisions they make more closely than they did several years ago. However, some ethical boundaries are clearer than others and it is in a photojournalist’s best interest to be informed of those ethics before they go ahead and publish a picture they think the public wants to see. If they don’t it could cost them their job, their reputation and hurt those connected with the photograph. Is it right to say a photograph should stay in its original condition if Photoshop enhances its visual aspects and makes it more pleasing to look at? Should we publish photographs of war and conflict if it makes people feel uncomfortable and gets in the way of politics or justice? Can we take a roll of film and start cutting and pasting the images together without calling it manipulation?

My argument in this essay is that, to be a better photojournalist, we have to look further into the ethical issues that have occurred in the past and analyse what it means to be a photojournalist who works with honesty and integrity. The occurrence of manipulating images has risen since the sophistication of design and new media technology. The pressure to produce the perfect image is driving some photojournalists to put aside ethics. Kobre states “staging or manipulating pictures can be highly damaging to careers.” A recent example of this is the Sacramento Bee photo (Image 1) that was manipulated by an award-winning photographer who used Photoshop to put two photos together to produce a better picture. Sean Elliot (President of the National Press Photographers Association) says “cases of photo manipulation like this chip away at all photojournalists’ credibility with the public.”

Most if not all photojournalists would argue that manipulation goes against the role of a photojournalist in reporting the truth; Parrish (2002) states, “at its best photojournalism, the journalistic part of photography is visual reporting of the most appropriate truth. The most appropriate truth, fairly represented, is the coin of the realm of contemporary photojournalism.” Enhancing an image is different to manipulating it, but I believe there is a fine line between the two. Slight changes such as correcting the lighting, fixing red eye and brightening the image are generally accepted in the editing process. It is when these become exaggerated that changing the image even slightly can cause the image to be deceptive. A popular example of photo enhancement can be seen in celebrity before and after shots (Images 2 & 3).“Many photojournalists think it is harmless to make minor touch-ups for visual aesthetics so long as they don’t go ‘too far’. But, for example, when photographs of dark scenes are brightened by Photoshop for the sake of revealing more detail seemingly innocuous the photo becomes tainted” (Quinn, 2004). Publishing graphic images can also cause ethical complications. More often than not, when a photojournalist is reporting on war and conflict the images are too graphic to publish them in a general newspaper.

The photographs taken by Chris Hondros taken in Iraq demonstrate the ethical dilemmas a war reporter is faced with. (Images 2, 3, 4 and 5) represent an honest story about a little girl, Samar Hussan, whose parents were shot in front of her and her siblings by American troops because they failed to stop at a checkpoint. The traumatic images show the little girl and her brother Rakken suffering right after the shooting. What was not known at the time was the little boy Rakken was injured, badly and ended up being paralysed. The images were published and whilst they copped criticism, a US Senator saw them and an outpour of support and medical treatment was offered to the boy and his sister, seen in (Images 6,7).

Reflecting on this story, Chris Hondros was just doing his job as a photojournalist. The images he took were raw, honest and told a human-interest story, which touched people’s hearts. “One of the important missions of photojournalism is to communicate to readers the human condition, to show people as they really are: the ethical question is how far is this mission to be taken?” (Parrish, 2002). In conclusion, it is interesting to note that some of the most iconic photographs are those that have not been enhanced or manipulated. In my opinion, these are the images that will continue to be trusted by the public. If some photojournalists continue to push ethical boundaries it will affect overall the way they are portrayed and trusted within the community. The advice from one professional is “if you can’t use the picture as it is, don’t use it” (John Long, National Press Photographers Association).


Kobre, K. (2008) “Ethics” in Photojournalism: the professionals’ approach. Burlington, USA: Focal Press

Parrish, F. (2002) “Ethics and Taste” in Photojournalism. An Introduction. Belmont: Wadsworth Thomson Learning

Quinn, Aaron. (2004) “Manipulation in Photojournalism: is it ethical? is it corrupt?” : School of Communication, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Canberra, Australia


http://www.sacbee.com/2012/02/01/4232790/setting-it-straight-photo-manipulated.html accessed on 15th April 2012

http://www.chilloutpoint.com/misc/celebrities-before-and-after-photoshop.html accessed on 16th Aril 2012

http://visualcultureblog.com/2011/01/photojournalism-ethics-and-the-afterlife-of-a-photograph/ accessed on 15th April 2012

http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2007/06/ethics01.html accessed on 16th April 2012

http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/161745/nppa-president-sacramento-bee-photo-manipulation-a-betrayal/ accessed on 16th April 2012

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