By Zachary Drexler
People have been manipulating photographs ever since the debut of photography, but with the advent of cheap and advanced digital imaging hardware and software, digital photo manipulation has become an all too common practice. Digital photo manipulation, also known as “photo shopping”, has become somewhat of a new contemporary form of art. There is of course nothing wrong with this, however, when it slithers into the realm of photojournalism and the media, the issue of ethics pops up.
Why is this, a problem? Well, digital photo manipulation can threaten the integrity and character of the subject of the image. Let’s take for example Fox News. On July 2, 2008, Fox News’ Fox & Friends labeled New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe “attack dogs,” in retaliation to a story they wrote about Fox News’ rating trend. The show then featured images of the men that had been digitally distorted to degrade their physical appearances. Steinberg’s teeth were yellowed, his nose and chin were widened, and his ears were ballooned. Reddicliffe’s teeth were also yellowed, dark circles were added under his eyes, and his hairline was pushed back. Fox News gave no indication that the photos had been altered. Thus, what would have been acceptable as a joke on two reporters became something more dangerous, propaganda.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for artistic expression, but a News organization making people uglier and scarier through digital photo manipulation seems a little unprofessional and classless. Think about it, the Nazis used to make characterizations of Jewish people with enlarged facial features to sway public opinion against them. Of course, I’m not calling Fox News a Nazi organization, I’m just pointing out how digital photo manipulation can hide a malicious intent. You can read more about Fox News here. <http://mediamatters.org/research/200807020002>
For the sake of ethics, digital photo manipulation in photojournalism and the media should be minimized. According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, the content of news photos should never be distorted unless the images are enhanced for the sake of technical clarity. To do so otherwise would be misleading and could highlight a story or information out of context. The following link explains more about what kind of photo manipulation is and is not acceptable in photojournalism. <http://graphicssoft.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=graphicssoft&cdn=compute&tm=792&gps=223_146_1276_603&f=00&tt=14&bt=1&bts=1&zu=http%3A//www.webster.edu/%7Ebarrettb/journal_ethics.htm>