Depicting events accurately
You have been sent to cover an incident at a border crossing following reports that a large group of asylum seekers is trying to gain entry to a neighbouring country.
It's reported that shots have been fired and some people have been killed.
You arrive and see a child sitting by the roadside crying. You think it's been abandoned and take a picture. It's a wonderful shot.
You call your news editor and prepare to send the image back to the newsroom. Everyone is excited; pictures like this win awards.
As soon as you have sent the picture, the child's mother appears and picks the child up. It stops crying. It seems the child's grief was caused, mainly, by being separated from its mother. Once it was picked up it seemed to be happy - despite the chaos surrounding it.
The mother shouts at you for taking a photograph and wanders off into the crowd with her child.
What do you do?
a) pretend the incident with the mother never happened. You have already alerted the news desk. They want to use the image. The mother will probably never know and is unlikely to take action and you could end up winning a journalism award for the picture.
b) talk to your news editor, explain the situation but recommend that the image is used anyway because, although it's not accurate, it does show the misery and suffering at the border crossing.
c) look for another shot more representative of the story even though it may be less powerful.
Correct Answer: c) look for another shot more representative of the story even though it may be less powerful.
Why c) is the right answer
Remember accuracy - here are some key points.
- Don’t just go for the shocking, sad and emotionally-charged images without finding out whether they really reflect the scene you are witnessing; to do so may be exploiting the victims and failing to uncover the true cause of the distress.
- Be sure that what you photograph accurately reflects the true situation and is not a distortion of reality; on the other hand, never ignore the one-off that could reveal an aspect of neglect or harm that has so far gone unnoticed.
- Never stage-manage a shoot to hype up the story; your job is to report through images what has actually happened.
- Check this site’s editorial guidelines on accuracy.
Don’t just go for the shocking, sad and emotionally-charged images; to do so may be exploiting the victims and failing to uncover the cause of the distress.
This is the answer to a question in the article Editorial ethics for photojournalists.
The author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast and online. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide.
This site has been given permission to use and adapt elements of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in these short editorial ethics modules. They have been updated to reflect changing international, regional and cultural variations.
Image courtesy of Seema Krishnakumar and released under Creative Commons