Imagine a family that had barely come to understand the tragic death of their son when local news stations started publishing photos from the car accident. Images spread across the community and are quickly adopted by national outlets as well. Pictures of his death are now spread across the nation and circulated through social media accounts. These photos showed the scrapes from the pavement he fell on, the bruises that covered his once bare face, and his bones are twisted in a terrifying position.
These are the last photos people will see of him.
This is one instance when I do not agree with the publication of photos showing violence or death. These photos are painful and graphic, and the story could have been told without photographic evidence.
Journalists should be respectful to the families and friends still grieving from these horrific events. They deserve the same courtesy that you would want if the roles were reversed.
According to Society of Professional Journalism Code of Ethics, the Society declares four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism. This ethical dilemma brings to light the one principle about minimizing harm.
Three points mentioned in SPJ Code of Ethics that are relevant to this case include: “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm and discomfort; show compassion for those affected by coverage; and consider the long-term implications by publication.”
The long-term implications of these photos can hurt court cases as well.
“There are certain photos that will be thrown out of a case if the judge believes they will be viewed as unfair or biased, but the media will sometimes still post these photos to their audience,” said Rachel Parker, graduate student at the University of Alabama. “This can be damaging if you have a jury trial because these photos could taint their judgment, which is exactly what the judge was trying to avoid.”
So how can people justify publishing photos of violence and death?
It depends on the circumstance. With consideration to the event mentioned earlier, it seems unethical to post those photos. However, I understand when it appears to be necessary in specific situations like when describing the impact of war and treatment of others.
Certain photos can be used as a tool to bring insight on a controversial topic. People are unable to hide from the issue once they have been presented evidence.
Also, I believe having influential photos may encourage people to speak out and help prevent these events from happening again.
This is relevant with animals as well. The release of photos and videos showing the violent treatment of some animals has helped increase awareness. The Dodo Impact is one organization that has a strong presence in media.
According to their website, they publish videos and articles about people who help by providing animals with care and affection. This coverage receives attention through social media, which inspires more people to help other animals in need.
I feel stronger emotions towards an issue once I see proof of it happening compared to reading about the event. It can be difficult to decide which news organization to trust, which is why photographs can be a powerful resource.
For example, the pictures shown of the earthquake in Mexico includes injured people being pulled out of the rubble as buildings fall apart. They bring a new level of understanding to tragedy whether it’s an earthquake or violent crime. These photos are shown to help explain the severity of what is actually happening.
I believe there is an alternative to this ethical dilemma, which would allow media outlets to display these photos with more sensitivity. News organizations can cover graphic photos with an overlay and warning so that the reader has to click on the image to view the content.