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Ethics & the Front Page

April 7, 2008

On the cover page of Vogues' April issue is a photo, taken by photographer Annie Leibowitz, of a tall, strong and menacing black male next to a young lighter skinned feminine model. Some reacted very negatively to the image alleging that it reinforced the fear of white (male and female) of black men.

One the cover page of the Village Voice is an ugly image of Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, badly bruised.

Many years ago, the Daily News published on its cover, a photo of David Finn's brother who had been shot to death during a robbery in Riverdale. Needless to say the family was distraught and complained to the editor. The editor did not apologize but gave the "every body else does it" excuse. It had been a policy at the Daily News, until then not to publish such photos, however since other newspapers were doing it, they had decided to do the same.

Is this an ethical issue? I think it is. Ethics is about values and drawing the line between what is acceptable and what is not.

The "right of the public to know" (or see) is to be balanced with, what I believe, is the right of people not to be emotional aggressed by distressing images.

Newspapers and magazines have different guidelines as to what they will publish and it is usually based on the profile of their readers.

Individuals and societies have different level of tolerance to offensive exposure. What should be the criteria for the media in making "the right" decision?

The Society of Professional Journalists may have the answer. In it code of ethics, it stipulates that: "A journalist should:

1. Show good taste
2. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity
3. Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief."

It is a good start.






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