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Ethical Problems in Mass Media

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Publishing photographs that show personal tragedy and are questionable in their moral standards with those concerning privacy and those about inflicting additional harm on victims can be supported by Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics. This should be supported because, as a news organization, photographing what is seen shows the magnitude of the situation and documents as it happened. The publication of graphic material such as was seen in the Bakersfield Californian. Photographer John Harte snapped eight frames after he responded to a call on the police scanner reporting a drowning.

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He arrived at a lake northeast of Bakersfield, California to the scene of divers still looking for a drowning victim. When the body of five-year-old Edward Romero was brought to shore a few minutes later, Harte went against what most of the other photojournalists and television crew did, which was opt out, and took photographs of the body while the family members, who were on the lake shore, began to grieve. His editor, Robert Bentley, made the decision to run the photograph.

The ethical question that surfaced when the public reacted to the photograph was to run personal tragedy photographs and exposing more grief on family members of the boy. Aristotle’s cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and courage support what Harte and Bentley did when they ran the photograph of the boy. Harte’s decision to take the photograph shows courage because he did it to the best of his own moral standing. This isn’t the first time photographs that have been graphic and showing personal tragedy have been published.

In “A State of Emergency,” photojournalist Gabriele Stabile took photographs in March 2009. “That month, a wave of spring thunderstorms flooded Gaza’s unpaved streets and blew down relief tents for families displaced by Cast Lead” (2011). The reason why the photographs were published and defended through the virtue theory is because “people from everywhere can relate to this: seeing a grown man crying is always heartbreaking, especially if it’s someone whose daily challenges are far tougher than the ones we experience” (2011).

Furthermore, not only is the media used in newspapers but in courtrooms as well, which documents graphic scenes of the crime scene and victims as well. Although the use of such imagery has become the norm, the prejudicial nature of this evidence continues to be a contested issue in courtrooms across America. Criminal defense attorneys routinely submit motions in limine to restrict or exclude crime scene photos on the grounds they put undue focus on the victim and generate sympathy.

Civil defense attorneys submit similar motions, positing that such evidence, which may be relevant for determining damages, has an improper impact on jurors’ assessments of liability. Under both circumstances, judges exercise their discretion and usually allow the jury to see some, if not all, of the images (2009). This shows that the judges using the virtue theory have to decide whether it is OK to show published photographs of the crime scene and victims that have been harmed, or if they avoid showing it at all because of the lawyers arguments for or against it.

Most of the time, the judge will choose to show some, if not all, of the images. This example is included because judges are like photographers in that they want the whole story shown and they want to be the communicator in getting justice or awareness out to the population, no matter how graphic the material is. Counterarguments/refutation People have disagreed in that they take the utilitarianism theory approach which states that it minimizes harm and reduces suffering. Many would argue that publishing photographs that are graphic have caused the family more harm and increased their suffering by having their grief made public.

An example of this would be when Ki-Sak Han was pushed in front of subway train and when his body was brought back onto the platform, many photographers started snapping pictures of the body. Many photo takers have been “desensitized” by watching the traditional news media do “unseemly” things, such as stick a microphone in the face of a distraught person to probe their feelings. In the case of subway victim Han, many people would be “morally offended” that others snapped pictures just after his death (2012).

The reason why people get offended with personal tragedy photographs is, “We think, ‘What if that were someone in my family? ‘” (2012). It causes more pain on the family from a utilitarianism point of view. Not only is it personal tragedy photographs that raises people’s hackles but photographs that are graphic in the case of photographer Sandy Felsenthal who was a former photographer for “The Commercial Appeal. ” Felsenthal exhibited 35 photographs on the newspaper lobby walls before nine non-news employees objected to the display as trash.

The photographs that were labeled “offensive” included two male bikers kissing, a Ku Klux Klan rally, an interracial couple, a punk rocker’s throat in action and semi-nude dancers with their backs turned (1983). The photographs were graphic and not directly dealing with personal tragedy but more taboo practices in those times. It can be argued from a virtuous standpoint that he was capturing everyone to document in the news but the utilitarianism standpoint would counter-argue that he had caused suffering to those he photographed by exposing them and to those that had seen his photographs displayed before it was taken down.

The best way to sum this up comes from Ralph Beddard who states: It is therefore the use to which the photographic image may be put which should concern civil liberty activists. Human rights violations are likely to arise where the use is not the one originally envisaged. Everyone, in the liberty of private life, should be allowed to act in any way which he or she chooses provided that this is within the law and the tenets of public morality. If such conduct is captured on a photograph which is publicized to the world at large, or to any particular named person, it could well prove to be humiliating or embarrassing.

Whilst it is important to be oversensitive to the fleeting inhibitions or vanities of the individual, it is essential that such technology should not be used to rob any person of the sense of personal integrity and security for which rights of privacy are framed. The value and utility which the photograph adds to the freedom and security of society as a whole must always be measured against the encroachment on the security of lifestyle of the law-abiding person. In short, we must be aware of the inhibiting role of surveillance.

The comment that the camera only sees what the human eye could see, even if correct, is not a satisfactory response. One does not want everyone to see what one is doing all the time (1995). What this is saying is that capturing someone’s grief for the world to see is invading their privacy and although the photographer can see exactly what is happening, it does not mean that everyone wants to see someone suffering or graphic photographs of a child drowned or a man hit by a subway.

It also states that the value and utility must be measured against whether it causes an encroachment on the family members left behind by the tragedy that have to deal with the world knowing of their personal loss. The virtue theory defends photographers and their editors decision to publish photographs, that are often graphic, of personal tragedy. This is based on their good intentions to record the truth as to what they see and to also bring about awareness to situations through capturing moments for the population to see.

The utilitarian would argue that publishing such photographs would not help the families or people suffering from personal tragedy but cause them more harm in broadcasting to the world of their loss and causing more suffering on them that has now been published for the world to see. Although both arguments are valid, the virtue theory is one that most photographers would follow because it is not them trying to cause more suffering to the people suffering from a personal tragedy but more for them to bring awareness to the community.

When the photograph was captured of the drowning victim, the photographer wanted to use it as an awareness campaign for drowning victims rather than cause more suffering. Capturing the photographs of the man that was hit by the subway train brought awareness to the community that this was happening, not to promote capturing pictures because of personal tragedy. Judges are like photographers because they have to show the tragedy to bring full awareness to the public of personal tragedies that usually highlight a bigger problem not being addressed.

Cite this Ethical Problems in Mass Media

Ethical Problems in Mass Media. (2016, Jul 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/ethical-problems-in-mass-media/

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