Do you self-censor?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by zinnanti, Mar 6, 2009.

  1. zinnanti

    zinnanti Member

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    I attached a photo as an example of self-censorship on a news assignment. (The photo is digital and contextually a bit off topic, but provides a good example.)

    I waited for the fireman on the far right to kneel down before taking the photo. This was so that the victim's face was fully concealed.

    In the course of the shoot, I didn't think that seeing the victim's face added anything to an understanding of the scene. Further, I was concerned about their privacy - especially being helpless in the course of this traumatic incident.

    Do you self-censor? If so, what is the threshold for censorship?
     

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  2. archphoto

    archphoto Member

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    I think you did the right thing.

    I am into architecture and interior photography so I seldom do so.

    A couple of years ago a did a series at Europol (European Police) in The Hague, The Netherlands.
    The request form security was: no licence-plates readable in the pictures, so I did.

    Peter
     
  3. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    It is really not necessary to self-censor while shooting. The censorship comes in the editing. You could have made frames showing the persons face, but not release them for public view.
     
  4. DarkroomExperimente

    DarkroomExperimente Member

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    A few years ago I had an idea for a political piece that would have involved taking the photograph right where innocent people had been murdered years before...I liked my idea, but it could easily have been misconstrued in such a negative way I decided to skip it

    most people wouldn't have made the connection, but if one victim felt they were being mocked...that would've been one too many
     
  5. Barry S

    Barry S Member
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    Only once. I was photographing in the parking lot at the place I worked and I saw a co-worker getting arrested. No one else was around at the time. The guy was a bit of a ass and a braggert and I could have gotten a perfect sequence of him getting cuffed and put in the back of the cruiser. I put my camera down because I figured nothing good would come of those shots.
     
  6. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    That is sensitive of you, and it is good that you are thinking not only of getting the pic, but of everything and everyone around you as well.

    However, if I was your editor, I would not be too happy. I would at least want to have seen that you tried to get the other shot, and tried to cover the entire story with a variety of pix. It is your job and your responsibility, it is public, and anyone who goes out in public has no reasonable expectation of privacy. If they hold the pix against you later, it it not your fault. You were only attempting to tell a complete and accurate story.

    The editor's desk is the place for censorship in this sort of photography. They want complete enough coverage to give them options. The more you edit yourself in camera, the more you lead the coverage of the event one way or the other. Journalism is a team effort. You, the writer, the page and copy editors, and the photo editors all work together to tell a proper news story. You can't be too afraid of what people will think in journalism.

    In short, you should have taken both pix, IMO, and let the editor decide, with your input.
     
  7. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber
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    Every time I consider taking a photograph, I choose what I am going to photograph, and what I won't photograph.

    Some of the criteria I use are purely photographic, while others may be more related to my sense of the sensibilities of others.

    A decision to choose a viewpoint which doesn't disclose the face of a victim is a mixture of both - IMHO unless the identity of the victim is a matter of public interest, that decision is a wise one.

    Of course, the photograph of Monica Lewinsky hugging Bill Clinton at a public event did turn out to be of public interest after all :smile:.

    I have worked as a newspaper photographer, and the fact that I had an editor behind me definitely affected my choices, but I don't know whether or not I wouldn't self-censor even in that circumstance. There is a real difference between what may be interesting, and what may be newsworthy.

    The aftermath of a car accident is a public event, and therefore at least potentially newsworthy. For that reason, the decision needs to be carefully arrived at.

    Self-censorship is one form of choice, and choice is integral to photography (IMHO).

    Matt
     
  8. pelerin

    pelerin Member

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    Hi,
    Do you feel that he made the image in fear of other's opinions? It sounded more like respect for another's dignity. If you ignore responsibility for making ethical choices (or abdicate that responsibility in lieu of others making the choices) you risk becoming a tool. Once the pictures are out of your hands you are going to have little opportunity to redact images that you decide are unethical.
    Celac
     
  9. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    He said he was on assignment covering a news event. I don't think that dignity has anything to do with it, nor is this an ethical issue. He has a job to do: to tell the public what happened as objectively as he can. Failing to tell the story to the best of his ability is failing to do his job. Purposefully doing it is even worse. When you are shooting for yourself, do whatever you want. When you are shooting for an editor as a journalist, you have greater responsibilities and obligations. You have these to the public and to your editor. You have to move your ego, and anybody else's ego, out of it. You are not working alone, you are not working for yourself, and much of the work to make the final product is out of your hands. If you can't accept this, you cannot be a journalist for hire. Journalistic ethics are the number one issue, not the ethics of preserving "dignity" of someone involved in an event. There definitely *are* many situations in journalism where this might be an issue of ethics or dignity; where it comes down to: what is more important? Telling this story to the best of my ability, or protecting the "dignity" of this person. Journalists should self censor. You have to always be making these calls. However, it all comes back to what your job is. Will the photo help you fulfill your obligations as a professional witness, or is it unnecessary? Many situations, it makes plenty of sense not to shoot, but a person on a stretcher in a neighborhood? Come on now. This is minor. Very minor. You don't help inform the public by purposefully waiting for someone to walk in front of the patient; the one "safety" that should come out of that event for sure. It is journalism, not just some guy out taking street shots for jollies, and you have to look at it with a fundamental understanding of journalism to judge this situation.
     
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  10. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Yes, I do "self-censor". My criteria would be an evaluation of the effect in suffering my work may/ would cause. As an example, I was present at the scene of a horrible automobile accident, where a teen age boy and his girl friend were both killed as a result of his Camaro leaving the road and running into the front of a local restaurant. On impact, the vehicle split open and distributed *many* empty beer cans over a section of the road.
    A dramatic, telling image...
    Empty beer cans - and blood.

    There was a local Firefighter, in full gear, sitting next to this pile of destruction, crying like a baby, a result of the frustration he must have felt in failing to save either - the terrible moment when an EMT realizes that, with all of the training, their best efforts, the work of heroes, ... the end of life is sometimes not the decision of mortals.

    It would have been a remarkable image. I did not take it. I realized hat the additional pain that would have been caused by the establishment/ reinforcing of that image and its memory would have been far greater than anything I COULD be part of, in good conscience.

    "Shirking my duty as a Journalist?" Not in my book. More like abiding by may own personal code of conduct and humanity.

    I was not the only photographer on that scene, and not the only one to NOT photograph. No one else did, either.
     
  11. Paul.

    Paul. Member

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    Which explains why the photo press is held in such low esteem, it is generaly percived that the gutter is the standard.
    Well done that man for makeing an ethical decision at least he can live with his concence.
    Yes I do self sensor, take a lot of church interiors, never identify or intrude on anybody going about their devotions, who am I to come between a man and his God.
    Regards Paul.
     
  12. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Fundamentally, the press is held in low esteem because they are feared. Many people don't like truth being told, and few people appreciate what the press does for them and for society. It's kind of like police officers or lawyers. Easy to complain about them and put them down, but we depend on them in a big way. Gutter rags and sensational journalism have a more specific effect, as you stated, but the fear of information is the real root of why many hate the media. Journalism is not about any one person. It is about the spread of information to an entire community. Why is journalism such a hard concept for people to grasp (especially photographers, it seems)?

    I am not arguing that every journalist should take every shot just because they can. If you read my whole post, it sez what I think. I am simply saying that they have a very important job in the community, and people need to understand that all they are doing is trying to give information to all of us, and understand that they have more professional obligations than the average witness on the street. Much of what we might call common dignity in normal, day-to-day life has to be balanced with other considerations for the good of the entire community.

    It is good to be aware and mindful of these issues, but a person on a stretcher in a neighborhood is a "no brainer" IMO. That is really all I mean.
     
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  13. catem

    catem Member

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    Surely it's the fear (or I'd rather say 'wariness and dislike') of misinformation.

    If there were such a thing as unadulterated information, or pure truth, I'd agree with you. But there isn't - nothing is neutral (or very, very rarely).

    I agree with the comment above, we self-censor all the time, in choosing the shots we make, whatever our different criteria. I think to deny this happens, or the necessity and inevitability of it, is self-delusion, and more likely to end up with something with unintentional bias - which is worse than conscious bias. Or, if 'bias' is too loaded a word - 'viewpoint'.
     
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  15. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

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    It's good to know that at least a few journalists will not do anything for a story.
     
  16. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

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    I think we dislike journalists because so many of them have earned it. And it isn't about fear.
     
  17. BobNewYork

    BobNewYork Member

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    I shall be forever haunted by the the thought of the images that were taken of Princess Di as she was dying in the car wreck. The discretion and integrity of the editors could not be relied upon then - and I suspect it cannot be relied upon now. It took a protracted fight by lawmakers and the Royal Family to stop those photographs from being published. That's my baseline.
     
  18. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

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    Please keep on doing what you're doing. Leave the scumminess and behaving like jerks to the paparazzi.
     
  19. BobNewYork

    BobNewYork Member

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    And I thought I was up early Chazzy!

    Guess you have to decide where the buck stops.

    Bob Hall
     
  20. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I don't think true objectivity exists either, however it is a goal of journalists to get as close as they can. Accurate, fair, balanced, complete, and timely coverage are some of the main considerations for which to strive. Lots of journalists are bad, and very few are good. No one is perfect, and our work is always "tainted" by the fact that we are human and have emotions and opinions. This does not mean that we should not always keep the ideals in mind in our work.

    I think that innocent people are the only ones who have to fear misinformation. Those who have a lot to hide are the ones I was mainly referring to. The ones who the "truth" would hurt. Unfortunately, these people are the people who run the world, so they can easily demonize the media in various ways, and this trickles downward to the general populace, who, in actuality is/could/would be very well served by knowing the truth of many matters.
     
  21. catem

    catem Member

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    2F/2F - I absolutely agree that a free and open press is essential - and one that strives for the sharing of useful knowledge, and objectivity, or at least balance.

    I think the point of this thread was about information overload, though, and sensationalism. Showing someone's face when it's not necessary, or showing the close-ups of the car crash in Paris.
    My point is simply that everyone selects information at every level - even the best journalists.
     
  22. BobNewYork

    BobNewYork Member

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    You have my vote there! I was thinking in terms of how a photograph, if published, might add additional and unnecessary suffering. The kid's who died in the car crash e.g. Publication of an image of the "beer and blood" would serve no purpose other than pile on more misery for parents and friends.

    It's rarely black and white, (pun intended) so we must each of us rely on our own personal integrity.

    Bob H
     
  23. Ian David

    Ian David Member

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    As you say, this is very minor stuff. Pretty much no reason why anyone needs to see the guy's face. What may interest the public, on the one hand, and the public interest, on the other hand, are two very different things. Many reasonable people find the news media a source of disappointment and disgust precisely because so often the papers and TV are crammed with information and photos that, despite being 'factual', are not in the public interest. That's how 24-hour news channels fill the time. The camera guy may pat himself on the back for being a 'witness', but who should care? Still, sadly, it has always been thus - and you probably cannot easily survive as a journalist if you allow yourself to self-censor in this way. One of the reasons I am not a journalist.
     
  24. jnantz

    jnantz Advertiser Advertiser
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    when i worked for a newspaper, i never self censored,
    i would present the paper with all the photographs and let my editor
    decide what would fit the story.

    the image at the beginning of the thread doesn't really show
    a trauma, and i don' t think my editors would have picked it to run with.
    there isn't a piece of the victim to show what the rescue people are doing.
    the leg, hand .. everything is obscured that might have given a little context ... even the gurney ..
    not that one needs blood and gore to get a clue, but some sort of anchor that can pull us in.
     
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  25. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator
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    As a former photo editor at a newsmagazine, I would have found that picture frustrating. Obscuring the face is one thing... obscuring a whole person? This picture wouldn't add much more to the story than the writer can say with the words. I would have been frustrated with such lack of coverage.

    These questions came up a lot when I was a photo editor, and I always came to the conclusion, it's better to have the pictures... to have all the information of a story, and let the editing process complete the story. If you spent all day worrying about everyone's feelings we'd have no press, and they do play a vital role.

    And I would say, Ed, that perhaps a picture of such a horrible tragedy presented to a young person today might give them a moment to think about the consequences of drinking and driving. Of course, it's easy to say that in hindsight, and I'm sure I would have found it quite difficult, if not impossible, to make such pictures myself, but I'd hate to leave the impression that everything turned out ok for those kids.

    As an aside, however, when we did our coverage of the Rwandan massacres back in the early 90's, our squeamish art director and editor decided against a number of pictures that included dead bodies. We had some powerful imagery of survivors in makeshift hospitals, but millions died. Our coverage, I'm afraid, left a rather different impression by NOT showing any dead bodies. As difficult as that was to see, I felt it ultimately unfair to the victims that we did not provide as thorough coverage as we should have.
     
  26. catem

    catem Member

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    I can see what you're saying, Suzanne. However, I don't think showing the realities of an atrocity is the same as, say showing Diana and Dodi Fayed in the back of the car immediately after the accident. The purpose of showing each is completely different. I don't think squeamishness is good, but that doesn't mean that everything always needs to be shown in graphic detail (if only because that results in peoples' senses becoming dulled).

    I've never worked on a newspaper or had anything to do with picture-editing. So can only comment as someone who looks at pictures - a great deal, like any member of the public. Sometimes it's easy for editors, I think, to have a particular view on what the public wants or needs to see. It's inevitable they don't always get it right.

    I'm not sure about the picture in the OP - my feeling is that what takes interest away a little is the people standing up to the left and looking away - that takes away from the drama and intensity a little for me. I don't think having the face or body of the person on the stretcher would make any difference - but a crop in of the right group of emergency workers, especially with the drip held up, would focus attention. I think it's interesting not having more of the person on the stretcher...

    I guess for any picture, there's no 'answer', but I do think sometimes the general public are patronised by the newspaper world, and the information given in pictures is too often spelt out to a degree that is not necessary, and the 'story-telling' is overdone, or goes too far.
     
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