Ethics and Visual Journalism

©Piyas Biswas

In general, Ethics are the moral principles that control individual behavior. In photojournalism, ethics governs the photo behavior of the photojournalist. Ethics is the cognition that keeps us on the right track and tells us to use our conscience. These moral principles navigate us to tell the actual story without any fabrication. Ethics is that cognition that forbids us to misinterpret the story. The role of Photojournalists is to bring up and show the truth to the world. As there are no formal rules, regulations or self-policing practices governing journalisms production, there is a big responsibility for ethics to govern. In photojournalism, ethics tell the photojournalist what to do and what not to do. Ethics and conscience navigate the photojournalist’s act. If we are not ethical about how we use and do photography then we are risking the integrity and the trust that the public has over visual journalism. A great example of this is the story of Jayson Blair, a controversial former New York Times reporter. He depended on other reporter’s reports to gather information and relayed on deceit and plagiarism. This kind of unethical journalistic behavior of Blair risked the newspaper’s reputation and credibility to the public. Photos shape how others are viewing the world. So photojournalists have that responsibility to give the original message through their captured image and ethics is the cognition that leads us to do so.

When the Rohingya refugees were entering Bangladesh, in 2017 I went to Cox’sBazar to cover that event. They came totally empty-handed and didn’t even know how they will survive. They didn’t have any money or anything with what they can buy their meal or manage shelter. When I interviewed some of them about their crisis of migration as refugees I noticed that after finishing the conversation with them a phase appears when we are not talking and I could understand that they are expecting some monetary help from me. At those moments I also felt a surge of emotion from inside to help them but I was in a dilemma that as a photojournalist if I should do that or not and if the ethics support it or not. It was tough because as a human being I was feeling pity about their crisis and great loss. But as a photojournalist, I knew that I should not pay my source of information or the subject. This same scenario also appears when I go to fire burnt slums to interview the victims.

An ethical principle says not to pay or materially reward the source of information. My dilemma that I mentioned above was regarding this ethical principle. The right thing to do was to stay in the ethical boundary and as a photojournalist not to reward them monetarily for giving me information.

— Piyas Biswas —

Student of Diploma in Visual Journalism — The Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University.




Piyas Biswas is an independent photographer with a special interest in Documentary Photography.

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Piyas Biswas

Piyas Biswas

Piyas Biswas is an independent photographer with a special interest in Documentary Photography.

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