Photographer apologizes for changing an actress’s hair style in a magazine cover photo, calling it “an unbelievably damaging and hurtful act.” Actress Lupito Nyong’o complained it was an attempt to make her fit “Eurocentric” beauty norms.
Lynching is no joking matter in the United States. News manager Robert Selkow found himself in the middle of a controversy over a Halloween display featuring three figures hanging from a tree.
“I got a photo on a smartphone,” recalled Selkow, who is site manager and news director of clarksvillenow.com, an online hyperlocal website affiliated with six radio stations serving Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky. “It looked like a scene out of (the movie) ‘Mississippi Burning,’ black figures being hanged.”
He said it turned out to be “the most powerful image we ever published.”
Selkow contacted Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists in facing this sensitive issue, and agreed to discuss details of the case publicly.
The offensive Halloween display was in the residential area of the Fort Campbell military base on the Kentucky-Tennessee border near Clarksville.
War is famously shrouded in a fog that journalists are supposed to penetrate.
Since war correspondents and photographers sometimes risk their lives in combat zones, you’d think they’d want to get it right. Otherwise, it’s just propaganda.
In that case, the fog just gets thicker. But it is a way to make a buck as media cut staff and rely on freelancers.
The recent Brussels bombings is an example. A 21-year-old Palestinian photographer triggered strong social media reactions. When a Fox News video showed him posing a girl at a makeshift memorial, an outcry arose against the unethical practice of staging photographs.
The Guardian, a British national newspaper, identified the photographer as Khaled Al Sabbah, who lives in Brussels and has won photography awards for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The newspaper also quoted Michael Kamber, a former New York Times staff photographer and founder of the Bronx Documentary Center, after he saw the video.
“It’s one more example of a photographer doing something that destroys public trust in the media,” said Kamber.
Not many codes of ethics urge journalists to “take all possible measures to mitigate the odds of a crash.”
But the Professional Society of Drone Journalists code does that, and says its guidelines “should be viewed as a layer of additional ethical considerations atop the traditional professional and ethical expectations of a journalist in the 21st century.”
Drones can provide images and data for “immersion journalism”, according to a blog post that predicts virtual reality tools will allow audiences to experience the sights and sounds of news events as if actually there.
The door to this future is slowly opening as the Federal Aviation Administration works to strike a balance between assuring public safety and supporting the commercial drone industry.
The Killeen Daily Herald in Texas reports that the FAA has acted on more than 3,000 petitions seeking approval for U.S. drone operations.
Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 gives the FAA authority to grant certificates for the commercial use of small, unmanned aerial vehicles. Journalists already use drones to cover newsworthy events, the newspaper points out.
The FAA, meanwhile, is moving cautiously. Each month, it says, the FAA receives more than 100 reports from pilots and others who see what appear to be unmanned aircraft flying close to an airport or manned aircraft.
“It’s become a serious safety concern for the agency, and a potential security issue for the Department of Homeland Security,” the agency said in a statement. As a result, the FAA is working with other agencies to develop technology to detect and identify “rogue drones” and their operators.
A 2014 FAA report denies that the U.S. lags behind other countries in approving commercial drones, adding: “we want to strike the right balance of requirements for (unmanned aircraft systems) to help foster growth in an emerging industry with a wide range of potential uses, but also keep all airspace users and people on the ground safe.”
The Professional Society of Drone Journalists claims members from the Boston Globe, ESPN and Reuters in its global ranks, along with freelancers and academics. “Established in 2011, PSDJ is the first international organization dedicated to establishing the ethical, educational and technological framework for the emerging field of drone journalism,” its mission statement reads. “We develop small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) for journalists, and explore best practices to deploy them for a variety of reporting needs, including investigative, disaster, weather, sports and environmental journalism.”
Its membership roster includes individuals with an interest in drones, and companies that manufacture them. So what is it primarily, a group that represents drone manufacturers or a drone advocacy group?
“I am under the impression it is an advocacy group,” said Mark LaBoyteaux, owner and operator of Hawkeye Media based in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. “But I haven’t heard from them for two or three years,” adding “I thought it evaporated.”
It started, he recalled, when a group of journalists who wanted to use drones for news photography sought permission from the FAA. Instead, the agency sent cease and desist letters to them.
“I got a letter from the FAA,” said LaBoyteaux. As a result, “they wanted to form a group that could work legally with the FAA and use photography for news gathering.”
LaBoyteaux uses five “multi-copters” for aerial photography and video photography. He understands that the FAA is relaxing its rules on drones “to let them be used for commercial purposes.”
On its website, the Professional Society of Drone Journalists espouses a “layered approach” to form its code of ethics, including traditional journalism ethics, privacy, sanctity of law and public spaces, safety and newsworthiness.
Drone operators must be adequately trained, according to the guidelines, and the equipment must be suitable for safe and controlled flight in adequate weather conditions.
Newsworthiness is the foundation of the group’s “hierarchy of ethics.” Drones should be used only after careful deliberation. “The investigation must be of sufficient journalistic importance to risk using a potentially harmful aerial vehicle,” the statement says. “Do not use a drone if the information can be gathered by other, safer means.”
“Our aim is to get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high quality video journalism using various types of (unmanned aerial vehicles) and camera setups,” CNN Senior Vice President David Vigilante says in a statement.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta adds: “Unmanned aircraft offer news organizations significant opportunities. We hope this agreement with CNN and the work we are doing with other news organizations and associations will help safely integrate unmanned news gathering technology and operating procedures into the National Airspace System.”
With this kind of high-level cooperation, drone operators might declare they have liftoff.
Since all the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists consultants teach on campuses across the country, it seemed logical to ask them how they and their students reacted to events that played out at the University of Missouri over press freedoms and protests over racial tensions.
An earlier AdviceLine blog post focused on what appeared to be an attack on First Amendment press freedoms when faculty member Melissa Click attempted to banish two student photographers from the protest scene, for which she later apologized.
Hugh Miller, assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, took what he called a contrarian view.
“I disagree,” said Miller, citing a lawyer friend who pointed out that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “is a restriction imposed upon the state, not upon individuals…. It imposes no restrictions on individuals.
“Reporters are perfectly free to jam a microphone in my face – no government authority can prevent them from doing so. And I am perfectly free to tell such reporters to get stuffed if I don’t want to talk or have them around. In so doing I do not violate the First Amendment. The First Amendment is not, IMHO [in my humble opinion], a license for journalists to demand, and get, access to coverage.
“Whether the contested access is on public property makes little difference to the First Amendment issue (though it may be important in a property rights sense). Nor does the First Amendment impose duties or obligations upon individuals to afford journalists the opportunity to cover them.
Amid the chaos of student and faculty protests over racial tensions at the University of Missouri, student photographers Tim Tai and Mark Schierbecker stood out as young men who understood their First Amendment rights to photograph and videotape the historic event in a public place.
Sadly, Tai and Schierbecker were badgered, harassed and bullied by students and faculty while trying to do their jobs.
Schierbecker videotaped Tai as he was harangued, surrounded and pushed by a crowd of students and older individuals who held their hands in front of his camera and would not allow him to move forward.
“We will just block you,” says one. “You need to go.”
Others chanted, “hey, hey, ho, ho. Reporters have got to go.”
Another says, “You gotta go, bro. You lost this battle, bro. Just back up.”
To his credit, Tai stood his ground and explained patiently, “The First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine.” He added, “I’ve got a job to do.”
Killing the messenger takes new meaning when you see it live, in living color, as happened in the deaths of a Virginia television news reporter and her cameraman.
WDBJ correspondent Alison Parker was conducting an on-air interview in a Moneta, Va., shopping center when she and the photographer, Adam Ward, were shot and killed by a disgruntled former colleague who also videotaped the attack and put it on social media.
The New York Daily News gave the murders front-page display, in very graphic detail than some TV outlets shunned.
Killings on video are increasingly common these days. Journalists are among those targeted now, becoming victims and not just reporters of events. Parker and Ward’s names are now added to a list that included James Foley and Daniel Pearl.
Tech-savvy killers use social media and the internet these days to show their crimes.
The Islamic State group released a video in 2014 showing Foley, clad in an orange gown, kneeling on the ground next to a man dressed in black holding a knife. Foley makes a short statement and then is decapitated.
In 2002, Pearl, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, disappeared while on assignment in Karachi, Pakistan. Video shown around the world via the Internet showed Arab extremists cutting his throat, then decapitating the reporter.
In this world of social media, terrorists don’t need reporters to tell their message. Terrorists can do that themselves now, and one way of doing that is killing reporters.
Photo: AP photo/freejamesfoley.org, Nicole Tung (inset).
By Casey Bukro
James Foley was an American photojournalist who captured the gruesome images of savage warfare, until he became one of those images himself.
Foley, 40, dressed in prisoner orange with a shaved head, is seen kneeling next to a masked, black-clad man holding a knife. Kidnapped in Syria almost two years ago, Foley seems to grimace as the masked man clutches his shirt from behind.
A video posted on YouTube, then taken down, reportedly shows Foley decapitated, his bloody head detached from his body and resting on his back. Two U.S. officials said they believe the video is authentic.
Journalistically, one of the issues in reporting on Foley is whether the grim photo, which seems to show the journalist in the last moments of his life, should have been published.
The New York Post and the New York Daily News gave the photo front-page exposure, causing Washington Post reporter Abby Phillip to ask if the tabloids had gone “too far by printing gruesome images of James Foley’s execution.”
The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics encourages sensitivity in the use of photographs involving those caught up by tragedy or grief, and “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”
For tabloids, that can be a challenge. The rule seems to be the more shocking, the better, and big images are best
This is not the first time the New York Post is seen as going “too far.” On Dec. 4, 2012, it published a cover photo of a man desperately trying to climb up on the platform of the New York City subway after a panhandler allegedly pushed him onto the tracks.
The man in the photo is moments from death as he looks at the train bearing down on him.
The photo appeared with the words, “this man is about to die,” and “doomed.” It caused outrage among those who thought it was heartless to publish such a photo. Some thought the photographer should have helped the doomed man, instead of taking his picture.
Shock value has always been a tool of the trade for tabloid journalism, and, to some extent its younger media relative, online journalism.
What does it mean these days to “go too far”? Is that idea passé?
There was a time when the personal lives of American presidents were off limits. Clearly, rules change.
What do you think? Is shock value just a hangover from tabloid journalism and outmoded, or justified at a time when movies and television trade in sex and sensationalism? Are we just old-fashioned when we cringe from photos of men about to die?
Journalists from three organizations, including SPJ, are pondering writing or rewriting codes of ethics. What should they say about shock value in the news?