This week one of the groups presented on digital manipulation. They spoke in part about the role of digital manipulation in photojournalism. I want to expand on this a little bit. As a journalism major, I've had to take an ethics class where we discussed the the controversy surrounding digital manipulation in the photojournalism world. I wanted to share some of my thoughts and opinions, as well as parts of the National Press Photographers Association's code of ethics, which is the standard to which photojournalists are held.
In general, digital manipulation is to be kept at a very minimum in photojournalism. the NPPA's code of ethics states the following:
"Photojournalists operate as trustees of the public... Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand."
"Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated."
"Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects."
These three excerpts directly address the question of digital manipulation, I think. They are not technologically specific, and I don't think they need to be. I think that the way in which they simply state that photographs should be "accurate" and not "manipulated" beyond the truth of what could be seen by the naked eye, serves as enough of a guideline for photojournalism.
Photojournalists that are formally educated at a journalism school would, of course, learn this code of ethics. Most photographers in the professional world would also learn about this through the organization that employs them. While there are no laws that punish or fine a photojournalist that does not obey these rules, that photographer does face the career-busting risk of being publicly defamed. Once a photograph is revealed to be misleading or dishonest, that photographer will have trouble finding work. For example, well-known Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj significantly manipulated several photographs during the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006. Several bloggers discovered the manipulated photos and Reuters subsequently fired Hajj and removed all his photos from their Web site.
This is great example of how photojournalisms are still held accountable for their actions by the public. Digital manipulation is largely looked down upon in the photojournalism world, as it changes images and the truth they seek to convey.