Language of the Image: Ethics for Visual Media
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?