Every day there are ethical decisions that impact the hundreds or thousands of people who watch, read, listen, and/or click on a media source. The foundation for making the right decision starts with ethics classes in college. Students in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism will use this blog to reflect on ethical questions in the media today.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Ethics of Graphic Images
Is it ethical for journalists to publish graphic images?
Truthfully, there is no right answer to this question. Many photojournalists
face this ethical dilemma throughout their careers.
Graphic photos can seem insensitive to the victims of a
tragedy. They can be scarring, incredibly violent, and too gruesome for
sensitive readers. They can cause outrage, spark controversy, and inflate an
issue or situation.For example, many
believe the repetition of videos and images showing the September 11th
terrorism attack heightened the trauma.The overexposure intensified people’s fear and inhibited many from
When a crisis such as 9/11 occurs, journalists have to
deeply consider what is appropriate for the audience. In an article on About News, Kenneth Irby, photo editor at
Newsday and the founder of the Poynter
Institute's photojournalism program, describes his process on publishing
sensitive photos. “You want to be able to say you made a thoughtful choice, and
to be willing to disclose to your audience a level of transparency about how
and why you made the decision…But understand, also, that some of your decisions
are bound to be unpopular with readers or viewers, no matter what.”
Although photos can cause damage and distaste, they can also
tell a story.
During the Vietnam War a famous photo was taken of a naked 9
year-old Vietnamese girl running in pain after an attack. The image brought the
cruelty of the war to the public eye and it furthered existing controversy over
the United State’s invasion of Vietnam. Based on an articleabout the photoin CNN, people felt so
strongly about the photo that “Some say it hastened the end of the Vietnam War.”
Graphic images also represent a call to action or a need for
change. For example, the media began to spotlight child malnutrition in the
under privileged areas in Africa.
Many of the graphic images show thin and sick children.There are even commercials with sad music to
add emotion to the cause.They are hard
images to look at, but they’ve had a remarkable response. Many organizations
have been able to raise significant funds to provide clean water and medical
treatment to tribes in Africa. The images
and videos have created a movement.
So then the question still
remains, when is it ethical to post a graphic image? Or, when is it too much? I
believe this is a decision that should be made by the journalist based on their
own personal moral code and the ethical code of the publication they work for.
They need to consider these ethical questions: Is this going to create an
impact, or just harm? Does this stand with the values of the organization, or
is it just distasteful? Are these images already over exposed in the media? This
isn’t easy for any journalist, and the images aren’t any less painful for the
publishers, but if these photos can make a change or portray what is indescribable
in words, than journalists must thoroughly consider releasing the images to the
What do you think about graphic
images in the media?