Influential shocking images vs. disrespectful appalling images, this controversial topic on how to mediate whether graphic photography should be published stirred my brain. Among the stirring, deep in the depths of my memory a popular 70’s Australian song resurfaced. Skyhooks – Horror Movie. That may sound strange but, I promise you it’s relevant. The song is about how chaotic the world has become, where
“The planes are a-crashin’
The cars are a-smashin’
The cops are a-bashin’, oh yeah”
And watching the 6:30 evening news is the equivalent to watching a horror movie. This is still a debatable occurrence today, with some published images receiving huge backlash from the public because of the horror and shock they dispense.
For example, take these 3 three images:
These confrontational images were controversial in the decision to be published. They not only drew mass global attention to major and very real problems occurring in the world, but also to the photographer and the distributor of the photo stirring debate about whether taking and mediating these images are ethically justifiable.
“Shocking images are not deceptive, but are instead so accurate in their depiction of life’s horrors that they pose ethical concerns for every journalist involved in the publication decision” (Yung Soo, James D 2010).
To be frank, early in this blog, I regard the publication of confronting images positively as I believe that we should not be sheltered from the reality of current affairs. In almost all cases such as the examples shown above, the images represent merely a moment in which some people across the world experience almost every day of their lives. I find it alarming that children are drowning seeking safety, or are dying from starvation, or people are sacrificing their lives in protest for equality. Not only because the world is allowing this to happen, but also because many of the reactions of audiences are disgusted that they have to see the horrific images as a result of this. Yes, it is shocking to see, but it’s even more shocking that someone is experiencing this, and without documentation we are naïve and obstructive to any possible progress and change to help these circumstances. Of course, however, like most things, this isn’t a choice of black or white and it’s not like I believe everything should be shown no matter what, as there is also the question of context and respect.
When considering whether to publish a photo there are many things to consider such as respect to the family. Thiessen, K and Go, J (2006) mention that the first obligation of a journalist is to the public, however while keeping in mind the reopening of grief to families publishing photos of deceased are appropriate as long as it is broadening a cause and not merely for curiosity. For example, the first image in this blog of the drowned young boy washed up on the beach, brings global attention to the tragedies of the Syrian War and the refugees that result from it, not just a shocking image of a child to bring attention to an article.
Other considerations include the dignity of the person and the importance of adding it to the article. This could be associated towards using photographs that don’t include the faces of the figures associated in the image. All the images in this blog are associated with major issues that add awareness to an article, shocking an audience in ways that just wouldn’t be as effective without the photo.
The NPPA (National Press Photographers Association 2017) code of ethics, standard 4, suggests that photo journalists should “treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.”
As a conclusion, more often than not, if a global tragedy is occurring the public should know about it. Photographs bring a whole new element to an article making people realise the reality of the situation, and that’s exactly what it is, reality, its real and it’s happening. So if an image creates more than just shock but also brings attention to critical disasters then publishers should be allowed to circulate the material with the conscience that it is ethically justifiable. However, if the image isn’t signifying a mass issue and the relevance of publishing a shocking image does nothing but cause unnecessary harm then of course, ethically, there is no reason for it to be published.
- Go, J, Thiessen, K 2006, ‘The Ethics of Children, Death and Photography’, Center for Journalism Ethics, 19 October, viewed 10 March 2017, < https://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/2006/10/19/the-ethics-of-children-death-and-photography/>
- Yung Soo, K, James D, K 2010, ‘Public Reactions toward an Ethical Dilemma Faced by Photojournalists: Examining the Conflict between Acting as a Dispassionate Observer and Acting as a “Good Samaritan”’, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly
- Tooth, R 2014, ‘Graphic content: when photographs of carnage are too upsetting to publish’, the guardian, 24 July, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/23/graphic-content-photographs-too-upsetting-to-publish-gaza-mh17-ukraine>
- Hamm, D, Johnson, L, French, S, ‘Ethics of Death Photos in Print Media’, Photojournalism: A Dying Business, weblog post, viewed 10 March 2017, <https://deathinthenews.wordpress.com/analysis/ethics-of-death-photos-in-print-media/>
- NPPA The Voice of Visual Journalists 2017, NPPA Code of Ethics, NPPA, viewed 10 March 2017, <https://nppa.org/code_of_ethics>