Photographs and visual images tend to generate heated debates in media organizations. Is the photograph or the video image too graphic to publish? Will it bring a public outcry if it is used on the evening news, a website, mobile device or the front page of the newspaper?

The Poynter Institute has devised this checklist for ethical decision-making in photojournalism.

Questions to ask before you take a photo or record or videotape:

  • Am I invading someone’s privacy? If so, is it for an appropriate reason?
  • Is this a private moment of pain and suffering that needs to be seen by our readers/viewers?
  • Am I shooting at a distance that is not obtrusive or potentially revictimizing individuals?
  • Am I acting with compassion and sensitivity?

Questions to ask before publication/broadcast:

  • Do I need more information about facts or context?
  • What is the news value of the photograph?
  • What is the motivation for publishing the photograph or using video image?
  • What are the ethical and legal concerns?
  • Who will be offended? Does such offense outweigh the value of presenting the image?
  • What are the possible consequences of using the photograph?
  • How would I react if I were in the photograph?
  • Are there any alternative ways to present the information to minimize harm while still telling the story in a clear way?
  • Will we be able to justify our actions?

Taken from Language of the Image, a self-directed course at Poynter NewsU.

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