Manipulating Photographs

The golden rule of journalism is accuracy and truth. It is therefore unethical to alter an image or manipulate its content in any way that deceives the public or misrepresents subjects. A journalist should never use fake and manipulated images to distort the truth. This can ruin the integrity and credibility of the journalist as well as the organization he represents. Manipulated photos can lead to libel and related lawsuits.

In a word of emerging digital technologies, photos are increasingly being manipulated for different purposes. In commercials, for example, images are commonly manipulated to persuade viewers into purchasing products and other commercial benefits. The same, however, should not apply to professional media. I just can’t imagine why a professional journalist would want to manipulate an image!

When a journalist alters an image, he’s likely to distort the truth or present biases on the subject. Manipulating the truth is not only unethical, it is also disrespectful to the subject. A clear case of bias and disrespect is in the example of these manipulated images of Michele Obama and President Obama himself.  Google apologized to Michelle in this article. The photos clearly exude disrespect for the subjects which is totally unacceptable in professional journalism.  No wonder they caused world wide uproar in the media. Other examples are these photos about “The Reuters Photo Scandal”.

Ethics of professional journalism compels journalists to be truthful, to avoid presenting their own biases and to treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Just as in writing stories, journalists should present facts in the form of images. They should maintain the integrity of the profession at all times.

I recommend reading this article by Bonnie Meltze, an artist and an educator and also the code of ethics of the US National Press Photographers Association.

However, images can also be manipulated responsibly for positive effects. For example if a journalist wants to protect a news source for security or ethical reasons, he/she can manipulate a photo of the source to achieve this objective. I took this photo of myself and manipulated it/edited it to obscure my identity using Picture2Life.

Original photo

Manipulated photo

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