Sunday, October 27, 2013

4. Ethics in Photojournalism

Journalists are faced with ethical issues all the time. The choices they make are often determined by their personal morals or societal norms. However, in some situations it's very hard to determine what is ethical and make the "right" choice as everyone has different standards, so it's not possible to draw a clear line between right and wrong.

This short film called One Hundredth of a Second really got me thinking about ethics in photojournalism. The main character, Kate, is a war photographer. She is faced with an ethical dilemma that needs to be resolved literally in seconds: if a person you are taking pictures of gets in mortal danger, what should you do? Should you stay committed to you profession and continue taking pictures or should you risk your life and intervene to help?

Kate makes her choice and witnesses the girl's death. It may seem obvious that she has made the wrong choice and we are inclined to blame her for being inhumane, but if we look at the Code of Ethics of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), point five says, "While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events."
Of course, Kate could have tried to save the girl, but that would mean altering the event and thus violating the NPPA Code of Ethics. And in fact, the situation was most likely irreversible - even if Kate did intervene, I doubt she could oppose the armed man and save the girl's life.

This film reminded me of Kevin Carter's photograph that won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994. It depicts a starving girl struggling towards a feeding center during the Sudan famine. The vulture in the background is waiting for the child to die. Kevin Carter left the scene soon after taking the picture, so the fate of the girl remained unknown. Just like Kate from the short film, Carter got a prestigious award for his picture, but couldn't enjoy it. He blamed himself for not helping the girl which caused him to fall into a deep depression and commit suicide shortly after.

Image via Iconic Photos

These examples demonstrate that sometimes it's really hard to make an ethical decision and choose between documenting reality and being humane. As in most cases connected to war or natural disasters you can't do both, would you choose to be a good photographer or a good person?

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