Media Ethics In Professional Journalism: Moral And Responsibilities (Photojournalism) – Essay


Photojournalism is a very sensitive issue because a picture worth a thousand words. Today, starting from the wars, natural catastrophes and up to piquancy from the life of celebrities,  all mentioned within the photography, or in other words the phrase “to be at the right time at the right place with the right camera”, when the journalist is in question. 

But where does journalism stop and when does the violation of human rights begin?

Photojournalism has an obligation and a right to satisfy all professional journalistic standards within the reporting along with the responsibility to not violate the privacy and human rights of the persons about who is being reported, through the respect of ethics and professional code of the journalist profession.

Ethics of the photojournalist must be the first and primary thought on the mind of the journalist while he/she is recording history. During the years, photos have been presented in different ways, and the true photojournalist intends to achieve that photographs that are presented in media are accurate. As a photojournalist you must understand that your job is not to create the news – your profession is to record it.

For example, if you make photo of the meeting of two city councellors and ask them to move to make better photo, you are changing the truth. You have changed the scene. If you, in any kind of way, become a part of the story, you are seducing the public.

With the digital age in which we all are living, it is even more tempting to button up an unbuttoned fly, to remove seamy scarf from somebody’s face, or turn around photography to gain visual attraction, but all of this represents a lie, and we have to save our credibility. Every person who would like to become a photojournalist has to have strong ethics and to do only what is accurate – if we don’t then we become only tabloid to which nobody believes and read it just for the amusement.

Photojournalism as the part of our lives

Today photojournalism is the constituent part of our lives. You can find photos everywhere – in politics, culture, art and sport. Photographs are very important for mass media for the reason that their task is to inform public about current events in accurate, honest, and balanced way. It is very difficult to achieve with words without some photographs, because exactly the photo is completing the demonstration of the happening about which the story is and without the photo the news is not enough cogent, and not even complete.

Let’s define photojournalism. On the most basic level, it is telling stories with photographs. But on top of that, the stories created must follow the rules of journalism. They must be true stories and the journalist must try to tell the story in the most fair, balanced and unbiased way possible. A photojournalist can take many forms, but in general you find them at newspapers, magazines, news stations and websites and a growing number are found working at other, traditionally non-visual news mediums, like radio stations which have expanded their coverage to the internet.

It can be argued that photojournalism is the most universal form of mass communication. Writing and speaking both require the knowledge of a specific language, but the visual image can in many instances be understood by anyone. Facial expressions, emotions, movement and body posture as well as composition, light and shadow can tell a story in the same way that words can.

Photo Reporter Job

Photojournalism is an extremely competitive field. Having the right skill sets is essential to having a successful career. First, people skills are the most important thing. A photojournalist need to be able to quickly gain the trust of their subjects and do in their work in a way that will not violate that trust. Strong journalism skills go hand-in-hand with that. Knowing how to determine the most important aspects of a story and how to report that to the public is crucial. This means that most photojournalists are trained in other aspects of journalism as well including writing and interviewing.

A staff photographer is someone who works for a specific publication, shooting for that publication is their full or part-time job. A stringer or freelance photographer shoots for many publications. A number of different organizations may request a freelancer’s services for a specific assignment or a specific period of time. Freelancers usually have a roster of clients that they work for. The third most common employer of photojournalists are wire services such as the Associated Press or Reuters. Newspapers and other news outlets subscribe to wire services. Wire services provide news coverage to these outlets which often can’t afford to sent their own reporters to remote locations.

Guidelines for journalists working with images closely connected with ethical issues


  • The research for the story behind the images you are shooting should be well-sourced, supported by strong evidence, examined and tested, clear and unambiguous.
  •  Don’t just go for the shocking, sad and emotionally charged images; to do so might exploit the victims and fail to uncover the cause of the distress.
  •  Never accept what you are told at face value; always check every detail with two independent sources.
  • Always be aware that there will be those who will want to set up an event for their own purposes; be wary if you are offered an amazing photo opportunity.
  • Be sure that what you photograph reflects the true situation accurately and is not a distortion of reality; on the other hand, never ignore the one-off that could reveal an aspect of neglect or harm that has so far gone unnoticed.
  • You don’t need to have the whole story behind what you see, but you do need to be totally open, honest and transparent about what you know and what you don’t know.
  • Never follow the pack; they may be being led and fed by those with ulterior motives.
  • Build your own trusted contacts so that you are able to distinguish between fact and spin.
  • Be careful when filming an incident or a subject when you are not culturally familiar with the background and circumstances; what may seem shocking to you may only reflect one element of a complex story.
  • Don’t crop or edit beyond what is technically necessary to display the image; you could distort more than the picture – you will know instinctively when you have crossed the line between editing and manipulation.
  • Never stage-manage a shoot to hype up the story; your job is to report through images what has actually happened.


  • Be careful when filming topics about which you are passionately concerned; you could lose your objectivity and do more harm than good.
  • If you have an interest in covering an event, make that absolutely clear in the text that accompanies your work.
  • Aim to offer all sides of the story in context and in a way that enables the audience to reach a reasoned and informed conclusion.
  • Your only motivation should be to inform the public debate and shine a light on wrongdoing and abuse.
  • Being impartial and objective means not being prejudiced but being fair and balanced; be sure to recognise when you are getting carried away.
  • Always rise above your own personal perspective and try to see a story from other points of view; otherwise your work is likely to be one sided and limited in scope value.
  • Ensure that you reflect a wide range of opinions through your camera lens, and be prepared to explore conflicting views so that no significant point of view is left out.

Taste & decency and offence

  •  Do not be afraid of offending if the information you are covering is in the public interest.
  • Avoid gratuitous imagery that shocks rather than enhances the understanding of the audience; you are not there to sensationalise or impress.

Privacy and consent 

  • Respect a person’s privacy, especially the vulnerable; their situation should not be seen as a rung on your career ladder.
  • Ensure that those you are filming are aware of how and where the images are going to be used. If they are to be used online as well as in print or broadcast ensure that those being filmed understand that the images will be searchable forever.


  • Never expose someone to ridicule and humiliation; they have to live with the fallout the photograph will bring, whereas you may have moved on to the next story and suffer no consequences.
  • Always remember you are working as a video/photo journalist to inform the public debate, not for your own glory or to try to make yourself look good.
  • Never expose a subject to danger in order to improve the shot; take what is natural, warts and all.
  • Never take payment, promises or favours in return for covering an event in a certain way or submitting a photograph that serves a cause.

Fake photos and our memories

In 2003, Los Angeles Times photographer Brian Walski caused an uproar when it was discovered that his picture of a British soldier yelling at fleeing residents in Iraq, published prominently by many U.S. newspapers, had been altered.

Walski had combined two snapshots taken moments apart of the British soldier urging residents to take cover as Iraqi forces opened fire. This digital alteration is one of several in recent years to cast doubt on the old saying that the camera doesn’t lie.

Some researchers are worried that digitally altered photos could alter our perceptions and memories of public events.

To test what effect doctored photos might have, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Padua in Italy showed 299 people aged 19 to 84 either an actual photo or an altered photo of two historical events, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing and the 2003 anti-war protest in Rome.

The original Tiananmen Square image was altered to show a crowd watching at the sidelines as a lone man stands in front of a row of tanks. The Rome anti-war protest photograph was altered to show riot police and a menacing, masked protester among the crowd of demonstrators.

When answering questions about the events, the participants had differing recollections of what happened. Those who viewed the altered images of the Rome protest recalled the demonstration as violent and negative and recollected more physical confrontation and property damage than actually occurred.

Participants who viewed the doctored photos also said they were less inclined to take part in future protests, according to the study, detailed in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

“It’s potentially a form of human engineering that could be applied to us against our knowledge and against our wishes, and we ought to be vigilant about it,” said UC Irvine psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who designed the study. “With the addition of a few little upsetting and arousing elements in the Rome protest photo, people remembered this peaceful protest as being more violent than it was, and as a society we have to figure how we can regulate this.”

Question to think about: What is the goal of photojournalism?

Next: Media ethics in professional journalism: Hutchins commsssion

Prof. Dr. Sabahudin Hadzialic

Prof. Dr. Sabahudin Hadzialic was born in 1960, in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 1964 he lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a professor (two doctoral degrees), scientist, writer & poet (distinguished artist by state), journalist, and editor. He wrote 26 books (textbooks for the Universities in BiH and abroad, books of poetry, prose, essays as well as) and his art and scientific work is translated in 25 world languages. He published books in BiH, Serbia, France, Switzerland, USA and Italy. He wrote more than 100 scientific papers. He is certified peer-reviewer (his citations appear in books and papers of scientists from all continents) for several European scientific journals. He participates within EU project funds and he is a member of scientific boards of Journals in Poland, India and the USA. He is a member of the Board of directors of IFSPD ( Also, he is a regular columnists & essayist and member of the Editorial board, since 2014, of Eurasia Review, think tank and journal of news & analysis from the USA. Since 2009 he is co-owner and Editor in chief of DIOGEN pro culture - magazine for culture, art, education and science from the USA. He is a member of major associations of writers in BiH, Serbia and Montenegro as well as Foundations (scientific and non-governmental) Associations worldwide. As professor he was/is teaching at the Universities in BiH, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and India. Detailed info:

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