Images evoke almost immediate emotional responses among viewers and images have tremendous impact (Lester, 1995). Visual messages with well-chosen texts combine to educate, entertain and persuade. Unfortunately, images can also offend, shock, mislead, stereotype and confuse.
As a result, photojournalism ethics were formed to minimize the flip side of images. Although ethics are important in photojournalism, photojournalists still violate those ethics for their own advantages.
For instance, OK! Magazine published Michael Jackson’s death photo on their cover. According to Snead (2009), OK! magazine reportedly paid over $500,000 for the controversial "last" picture of Michael Jackson being carried on a stretcher, possibly dead.
Most of the readers were mad about this and thought it was an irresponsible act. Vesely (2008) suggested that ethics are overwhelmed by the power of photographs. In addition, the photo is the story, not just the texts. However, question of “Is it ethical to publish a dead person’s photo on a magazine cover?” still remains. According to Lester (1995), privacy concerns are almost always voiced by ordinary citizens or celebrities who are suddenly thrust in front of the unblinking lens of a camera because of connection to some sensational news story.
The consequences of violating photojournalism could vary from photographer getting fired (The Associated Press, 2006), threats of boycott the publisher and negative outrage of the public (Snead, 2009).
No matter how the tools of journalism change, fundamental ethical concerns still apply. According to Lester (1995), displaying violent, sensational images for economic reasons, violating a person's privacy before the judicial process can function, manipulating news-editorial pictures to alter their content, stereotyping individuals into pre-conceived categories and blurring the distinction between advertising and editorial messages were journalism concerns in 1895, are important topics in 1995 and will be carefully considered issues, no doubt, in 2095.
Therefore, it is vital that whenever and wherever possible, ethical issues should be employed by the journalism profession.
Altered images prompt photographer’s firing 2006, The Associated Press, viewed on 18 November 2009, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13165165/.
Lester, PM 1995, Photojournalism Ethics Timeless Issues, Fullerton.edu, viewed on 18 November 2009, http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/photoethics.html.
Snead, E 2009, OK! cover of Michael Jackson's death photo stirs controversy, Zap2It.com, viewed on 18 November 2009, http://blog.zap2it.com/thedishrag/2009/07/release-of-michael-jacksons-death-photo-stirs-controversy-.html.
Vesely, JF 2008, Bringing death close, Indiana.edu, viewed on 18 November 2009, http://journalism.indiana.edu/resources/ethics/controversial-photos/bringing-death-close/.