Thursday, September 3, 2015

How Far is too Far?

Anthony Eliopoulos

Every day, journalists are forced to face ethical questions. That's the nature of the practice. Creating something that will be spread across all different types of mediums is bound to spark public controversy. It can be argued that if a story doesn't create a pressing conversation, the journalist didn't do his or her job correctly. When I'm reading an article or watching a video, I'm looking for answers to the questions that most people are afraid to ask. If a journalist goes to their managing editor and asks, "is this suitable to post," then they're doing their job the way it was intended to be done. Every story is different. That's why there is no magic line that can't be crossed (and if there is one, it's blurry and wobbly at best).

There have been events in the passed that drastically changed how people perceive the media and what is acceptable to show to the public. Elvis is famous for doing this with his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. How could someone go on TV and shake their hips the way he did. He was obviously attempting to seduce women. People were outraged. I wonder what those same people would think if they saw the VMAs this past Sunday. Now that was racy.


More recently, the terrorist attacks on September 11 have created a precedent for journalists to follow. According to the RTDNA Code of Ethics, "journalism places the public's interests ahead of commercial, political and personal interests." It was their journalistic duty to repeatedly show the hijacked planes crashing into the towers, and I think most people will agree with that. It helps narrate the story that people from halfway across the world can cause this type of catastrophe. Yes, it will hurt some people's feelings but not airing the attacks would desensitize the matter. That's really the dilemma that journalists face.

Today, pictures and videos can spread like wildfire. News outlets can't control this rapid spread, but what they can control is how the public will perceive events after the fact. We saw this with the murders of the two journalists on live TV. The day after the shooting, The New York Post and The Daily News used controversial pictures at the foreground of their publication. By that time, most people have seen both the videos of the shootings so why shouldn't they be able to use those pictures? 

The main argument stated against using graphic pictures is that the publication is hurting the feelings of people who don't want to see the pictures. The Daily News justified their decision by saying we are at a time "when it is so easy for the public to become inured to such senseless violence." But is their public statement really transparent to why they had such a controversial cover?

Earlier I said that journalists should use their position to raise questions that other people will not. However, this is not what The Daily News and The New York Post did. They merely used their platform for their own business sake. They did not place the public's interest ahead of commercial interests. They know full well that having a controversial cover will equal to more viewership and more viewership equals more advertisement. And they did so with complete disregard of the victims family. The controversy alone is enough for some people to go out of their way to buy an issue of The Daily News. Imagine seeing your fiancĂ© plastered on the front pages of tabloids with complete fear in her eyes. Now imagine that a few news corporations used that look of fear and turned it into a profit.


  1. Tasha Penwell

    There has been some recent controversy on publication of pictures of the drowned Syrian boy who was trying to find sanctuary in Greece. The question is raised whether it is respectful or even humane to publish such photos. I think publication of such pictures is a double-edged sword. I believe the intent of the publication is to convey what is truly happening in other parts of the world. The picture of this young boy lying in the sand speaks to the heart of many (I would hope). I believe the intent of the journalist was to truly create an "oh, $hit" moment of the reality that others are facing and that may put another spin on the immigration issues and those needing aid.

    On the flip side of that thought, there is the viewpoint of this photo being published and used without the consent or respect to this child's family and the basic rights of humanity. Is the disregard for respect in this manner excused for a greater cause to showcase the plights of others or is it being used to sell a paper?

  2. I agree. It's sad on what the news stations will put out in trying to tell a story that will bring people in.
    Robert Vollman.