Moral Obligation and Ethical Values in Visual Journalism

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Natia Tsulukidze


Contemporary world is divided into radically different
political and social worlds. Photos documenting the differences and diversity of these worlds are more and more in demand and fast moving current events make the world more photocentric.

To navigate this diversity, moral obligations and ethical values have been clearly defi ned in alignment with the international declarations and professional codes of ethics. However, in photography moral obligations and ethical values are often contradictory concepts and sometimes defending the former means rejecting the latter. This is especially true of
photojournalism as it is the source of daily news, investigative reports, celebrity lifestyle, political events and high-profile meetings. Clearly, photographers working in this environment are expected to cover the facts and events impartially, while at the same time creating visual eff ects that meet professional standards and create unique, high quality work of art.

To illustrate the confl ict between the moral obligations and ethical standards, let’s consider some textbook examples. Without a question, taking and publishing pictures of a naked child is a crime. However, if cloths of a child have been burnt by the prohibited napalm bombs, leaving burns on a little body twitching in an unbearable pain what is called for – banning naked child photos or allowing the photographer to expose hidden, cruel reality?

We all also agree that taking photos of mutilated bodies of the diseased is ethically unacceptable. But if these people, including minors, have died in a collapsed building of a famous clothing brand, are we supposed to ask a photographer to turn a blind eye on the victims or to expose the imaginary “democracy”Clearly, double standards of the contemporary world make it especially diffi cult to fi nd and expose the truth. Documental photography, however, does not exist without standing up
for truth and justice, and expressing a morally sound position of an author. Therefore, violation of ethical principles by photographers is often driven by moral obligations.

In my view, such violations of ethical standards should be even more frequent in photography (obviously, I don’t mean ungrounded, unjustifi ed breach of standards) to make us think about people that we left behind, people who are facing death,
hunger and homelessness in isolation. Photographers should remind us that in their fi ght for moral values they hold the weapon accessible to anyone – a photo camera. We have agreed on the concept that photography is “an act of non intervention” so any objections towards the photos depicting the truth, are the result of the frustration provoked by weakness and the attempt to hide, mask this weakness or an attempt to hide from the fact
that as a member of the society, you are complicit.
causing immeasurable suffering?


Photography, Visual Journalism, Moral Obligation, Ethical Values, Nick Ut, Kevin Carter, Adbusters
Published: Dec 20, 2021

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Art Studies