Photojournalism is simply the combination of photography and journalism. It is a way to portray certain news story or events through images. Over the years we are led to believe that whatever photos we see either in a newspaper or a magazine are trustworthy as we ourselves believe that the media are only interested in exposing the truths to the public. However, we would be fools to think that the media is solely serving the public’s interest as there are always political, religious or individual agendas behind it. The fact that we are living in the information age should already make us well aware that technology has the ability to manipulate or tamper photographs which distorts the truth.
Howard Chapnick (1982) eloquently summed up the dangers to journalism with such manipulations. “Credibility. Responsibility. These words give us the right to call photography a profession rather than a business. Not maintaining that credibility will diminish our journalistic impact and self-respect, and the importance of photography as communication” (pp. 40-41). As mentioned by Lester(1995), “Because images evoke almost immediate emotional responses among viewers, pictures have tremendous impact. With well-chosen words, visual messages combine to educate, entertain and persuade. But the flip side to such visual power is that images can also offend, shock, mislead, stereotype and confuse”. This contributes to the reason why photojournalism ethics is important which is to convey the truthfulness of reality. Also, it prevents the readers from misinterpreting the photographs as well as being deceived by the photographers.
Have a look at the images below.
The image on the above left shows ELLE’s cover of Gabourey Sidibe. Next to the magazine cover shows a photo of the African-American actress taken from Flickr. We can clearly notice that ELLE Magazine chose to lighten Gabourey’s skin in the cover photo which stirs up some issues which is quite similar to O.J. Simpson’s case where his skin was darkened in TIME magazine. We all know that manipulating images is quite common in magazines, but lightening a dark-skinned black woman only shows racism no matter what the original intent was. This means that these photos are not ethical as it does not convey the reality.
Doctoring a news photograph has more impact on the society as it changes their perception. Minor editing of images merely to improve the quality of the image is acceptable but changing a lot more than that in order to pass the image off as a reality is considered to be unethical. If it is an illustration, then manipulation of the image can be accepted though photo illustrations are already considered to be unethical as reality is altered. ‘Presenting photographic illustrations is acceptable, provided that you make clear from context, or explicit in the caption that, that is what you are doing’ (Kieran, 1998, p.130). Editing of photos such as cropping someone out, or placing someone in the photo, changing the background or structures, altering facial expressions and features, are strictly prohibited as it changes the story or meaning behind the image. Look at the image below. There are many alterations made to the man in this photo by FOX news which made him look more like a terrorist compared to his actual appearance.
In conclusion, photographs can be altered to a certain extent, and depending on its use of purpose, these changes can be very limited. On the other hand, photojournalists would never be able to capture photographs that shows the whole reality as the photos taken will inevitably comes from their point of view. They can capture photos that can only present the visual aspect of a scene at a particular moment but they cannot show what happened before and after the picture was taken.
Kieran, M. (1998). Media Ethics. London, GBR: Routledge.
Lester, P.M. (1995). Photojournalism ethics timeless issue. Website: http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/photoethics.html
Lester, P.M. (1999). Photojournalism an ethical approach. Website: http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/pjethics.html