The scope of journalism is a multidimensional, creative and responsible activity. The controversial nature of journalistic performance is usually connected with a dilemma of necessity to represent the real facts with the maximal objectivity and subjective reflection of a journalist that the majority of articles tend to bear. Moreover, the limits of the objective representation as well as ethics code of journalism are also crucial aspects of this professional activity.
There is a specific branch of a phenomenon of journalism, photojournalism. It is, on the one hand, simpler and more objective as far as it reflects a particular moment of any event, the shades of the landscape or a range of emotions on a person’s face. On the other hand, it is even more controversial since it may represent a naked and ugly truth of life. Such an aspect is not always considered to be ethical and proper. The vivid examples of evident violation of the ethical code are the pictures, which depict terrors of war, diseases, excessive pain, and death (Bersak, 2006). The given examples refer to the reality, but are not regarded as acceptable in the particular part of the society. Therefore, the ethics of photojournalism appears to be one of the most urgent and topical controversies in the current course of time.
According to The National Press Photography Association (NPPA) (2012), the regulatory measures enclosed in it are “intended to promote the highest quality in all forms of visual journalism and to strengthen public confidence in the profession.” Furthermore, one of the key standards of the given scope of activity, or, to be more precise, a guiding recommendation is as follows: “While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events” (NPPA, 2012). Nonetheless, it is essential to highlight that the definitions and boundaries of the ethical photojournalism are vague and ambiguous. Bersak (2006) highlights that the field of photojournalism has no Bible and no Pope to limit, restrict or define precisely its borders and rules for this type of activity. The majority of explorers in the given field tend to focus not on the rules, standards, and limitations, but rather on the concept of photographic truth (Bersak, 2006). This principle is connected with the correctness of the photography, its relevance in terms of reality as well as correspondence to the intention of an author to reveal a particular idea. Many pictures in the contemporary mass media tend to mislead the readers’ audience (Bersak, 2006). Nevertheless, even a claim to reflect the reality with the maximal objectivity may impose a significant controversy as far as any object may be seen differently from various perspectives. An individual vision of the scene reflected on the photo is one of the angles of subjectivity. Another one is related to the choice of light, color, shades, and other physical factors. Therefore, a professional photographer may hardly be considered to be a detached person fixing certain aspects of reality since photography is an art form in a broad sense.
Bersak (2006) underlines that the supreme goal of a photojournalist is “faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand” (p. 8). Hence, the adherents of the given field of professional performance are expected to align the reality, their own perception of this reality, and presupposed conception of the audience. Furthermore, the important issue discussed by Bersak (2006) is a dilemma of ethics and taste. This opposition is especially topical in such critical thematic dimensions as sexual imagery, depiction of violence, and children in photojournalism. The latter aspect of the outlined dilemma will be studied more thoroughly.
The Key Concepts of the Study
The main concepts of the present study include such terms as journalism, photojournalism, and ethics code. The given notions have been already identified and discussed. Therefore, it is relevant to present the definitions, which are the most comprehensive and appropriate ones in the given context.
The concept of journalism should be comprehended in a broad sense as “the profession of reporting or photographing or editing news stories for one of the media” (Bersak, 2006, p. 6). The principle of photojournalism is narrower. The present study relies on the following definition: photojournalism is the performance of reporting about events by the means of photography art relevant presentation. The concept of the ethics code should be comprehended as a range of recommendations concerning what is acceptable and constructive in the chosen field of activity.
The present study relies on the background provided by Bersak (2006), Krever (2014), Gianotti (2011), and Fulford-Dobson (2015). These contributors to the outlined scope of concern demonstrate not only a general theoretical basis in terms of ethics, law, and an overall attitude toward the direction in photojournalism. It involves children, but also the particular examples and empirical study of the issue in question. Moreover, the above-presented authors discuss the given dilemma from different perspectives. Such an approach guarantees a thorough and constructive discussion of the analyzed phenomenon.
Bersak (2006) outlines a general conception of the photojournalism ethics and accounts for six ethical philosophies developed by Lester. They may be applied to the phenomenon of photojournalism. To be more precise, the ethical paradigms include the Categorical Imperative, Utilitarianism, Hedonism, the Golden Mean, the Veil of Ignorance, and the Golden Rule (Bersak, 2006). Actually, every paradigm may be applied to the issue in question. However, the most relevant ones are considered to be the Golden Mean and the Golden Rule. The Golden Mean is built on the notion of compromise and adheres to such a scheme as: “If there is a less intrusive, offensive, or disagreeable photo that still tells the story that is the better option” (Bersak, 2006, p. 9). This approach may be efficient in the situations when the ethical concern is not sharp and critical. The philosophy of the Golden Rule means that an author of photojournalistic work will “treat his subjects as he would treat himself” (Bersak, 2006, p. 10). Such concept is more universally applicable. Nonetheless, there is a serious drawback as far as the choice of the ethical consideration completely depends on a photographer and his/her outlook.
Gianotti (2011) provides a profound theoretical study supported by specific empirical examples, which features the limits of photojournalism. The author of the research evaluates this type of photographic activity through the prism of human rights potential violation and children labor. The location of the empirical investigation covers the territory of Africa, South Asia, South America, and Northeastern Europe (Gianotti, 2011). The significance of the given exploration and analysis is that it establishes some standards concerning children rights and freedoms in the context of photojournalism. Moreover, it raises such crucial issues as professional and social responsibility.
The studies presented by Krever (2014) and Fulford-Dobson (2015) are more experiential and narrow. Krever (2014) argues about the excessive inappropriateness in terms of ethics of the cases when photojournalism depicts the cases of child sexual abuse. The author aligns the urgent and threatening topicality of the given problem on the territory of South Africa, the fact that such cases are left unreported primarily, the necessity to feature them in the mass media. It is done in order to attract more attention of authorities as well as of community members and the extreme brutality of such reports with photographs, which interferes with the scopes of ethical considerations and human rights (Krever, 2014). The special attention is paid to the cases when children are sexually abused by other children (Krever, 2014). Nevertheless, a critical need to report about such terrible reality does not cease a burden of this activity: “there’s a great difficulty for me to release these stories because I feel they’ve been given to me and they are very sacred” (Krever, 2014).
The scope of investigation presented by Fulford-Dobson (2015) is more positive. She features the practice of photojournalism targeted at the enhancement of female roles in Afghanistan by means of capturing a new sport activity by the young female generation. According to the author of the currently discussed study, the phenomenon of Skateistan is significant as far as “Beyond the physical benefits, sport empowers girls to build leadership skills, confidence, and challenge gender stereotypes” (Fulford-Dobson, 2015). Hence, this example reveals a constructive potential of the photojournalism activity involving children.
Target of the Study: Survey
The given study is based on both the primary and secondary data analysis. The secondary data have been already discussed. Based on its thorough analysis, a survey has been developed and conducted. Its outcomes are the primary data of the study that forms an empirical core element of the investigation course.
The research consists of ten questions. There are both open-ended and close-ended ones. Such an approach increases objectivity of the outcomes and provides more details for the subsequent analysis. The sample of participants has been selected by the random choice via email. The emails of students were acquired through the university database upon the preliminary consent of university authorities. The students were invited to partake in the survey via email. Moreover, they were provided with all the necessary information concerning the purpose of the research, ethical considerations, and expectations. Ethical considerations of the given study mean that it a) was conducted upon respondents’ consent; b) guaranteed confidentiality of results; c) imposed no racial, sexual, religious or other kinds of discrimination. The number of respondents was twenty.
The list of the questions:
- How do you understand photojournalism?
- Do you prefer prevalence of visual or informative data in the article?
- visual data;
- and informative data.
- What do you read more often?
- I do not read any kind of press.
- How do you feel about depicting children in photojournalism?
- Do you support the presentation of cruelty on the photographs featuring children as a measure to report the objective reality to the audience?
- Do you support the presentation of sexual abuse on the photographs featuring children as a measure to report the objective reality to the audience?
- Do you support the presentation of death on the photographs featuring children as a measure to report the objective reality to the audience?
- Do you support the presentation of pain and suffering on the photographs featuring children as a measure to report the objective reality to the audience?
- Do you think it is obligatory to establish a strict ethics code for photojournalism performance?
- What key aspects should be taken in consideration in the standardized ethics code?
The key tasks imposed on the above-presented survey were such as:
- to identify the attitude of the average students to the phenomenon of photojournalism;
- to reveal the press preferences of the respondents;
- to determine attitudes to the excessively cruel and inappropriate depiction of children on the photographs;
- to define the expected boundaries of the ethics code in the scope of photojournalism.
The course of analysis of the outcomes of the conducted survey reveals the following tendencies, preferences, and attitudes: a) the prevailing majority of the participants (85%) position photojournalism as a supporting element for a traditional phenomenon of journalism; b) 75% of the respondents prefer reading newspapers, whereas only 60% choose informative data over the visual presentation of the topic of interest; c) overall conception of depicting of the children in the press is primarily positive since 90% voted for it; d) the attitudes to the depiction of excessively cruel photographs of children as a measure to report the objective reality to the audience are as follows. The cruelty rate is the support of 45% of the respondents; sexual abuse rate covers only 20%; death representation is supported by 45%; pain and suffering depiction is regarded as a relevant aspect of photojournalism by 65% of the respondents; e) the necessity of standardization of the ethical code for the given scope of the professional activity is supported by 70% of the participating audience. The key criteria of children depiction in photojournalism are connected with the principles of target audience of the press editions in terms of age and socio-ethical considerations, the purpose of the article and the necessity to impress the readers’ audience with excessive brutality of visual materials.
Thus, the phenomenon of photojournalism is regarded as a new interactive development in the scope of any journalistic activity aimed to represent the reality vividly and persuasively. The majority of the respondents (90%) are for the children depiction in the photojournalism, whereas the attitudes to excessive brutality featured on these photographs differ considerably. To be more precise, the measure to report the objective reality to the audience by means of children photographs that was opposed most of all is the one featuring sexual abuse theme since only 20% of the respondents regarded as a proper and relevant tool. Meanwhile, pain and suffering depiction was supported by 65% of the participants of the survey. The necessity for ethics standardization of the photojournalism as a separate branch of journalistic activity is apparent since the prevailing majority of the respondents (70%) supported this initiative. The scope of the research requires a more profound and broad investigation.