Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ethics of Graphic Images

Jillian Kata

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 moving forward.

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 article about the photo in 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 public.

What do you think about graphic images in the media?

1 comment:

  1. In whatever situation the image that is used must reflect the intention of the journalist. Graphic images must be used cautiously considering the fact that people are often affected by the kind of thigs they see