Ethics in Photojournalism

Just a short post to commend the article by Photoshelter co-founder Allen Murabayashi on the Photoshelter blog, The Ambiguity of Pressing the Shutter – Ethics in Photojournalism.

Here are the final words of the piece – but if you’ve not read the whole of it, I urge you to do so:

But let’s be clear, ethics isn’t just a photographer problem. It took an industry of contest organizers, judges, photo editors, grant organizations, and publishers to allow questionable content and an ethically-challenged photographer to surface.

For every “obvious” scenario, there are dozens of ethically ambiguous situations. Do you preserve history at the expense of dignity? We will only gain clarity with an on-going discussion – not a punctuated dialogue that waits for egregious activity and a backlash of moral outrage.

I’ve fortunately never found myself – or never deliberately put myself – in the kind of extreme situations that serve as examples for Murabayashi’s post. But even in more routine events, photographers are making – or should be making – ethical decisions every time they take or edit their photographs. Decisions about what to photograph and how to do so, about whether an image fairly and accurately reflects a situation or a person.

But as Murabayashi makes clear, ethics isn’t something just for photographers but for the whole photography industry, and for the whole of the media.  And for the audience too. While we may condemn the media for its ever-increasing emphasis on controversy (and celebrity gossip) it does so to feed an increasingly insatiable demand.

I’m not sure what conclusion I draw from this, other than that I’m getting old and full of apparently outdated ideas like truth, justice, freedom etc. Perhaps that somehow we need to re-establish a clear distinction between news and non-news, something I’m shocked to see even highly regarded publications seem to have abandoned. And certainly to stop publishing for the lowest common denominator.

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