graphic images in the media: where do we draw the line?

(Caution: this blog post contains graphic images).

To some, reading the sentence at the top of this page is intriguing and teases them to keep reading. At the same time, we often feel offended, disturbed or violated when witnessing such images in the media. As a society we have our boundaries, and the publishing or broadcasting of graphic images is something that obtrudes upon this imaginary line – a thin one.

The online publication Reported.ly gives us some insight into two different perspectives on the matter of graphic images and their place in the media.

For the Editor of the site, Andy Carvin, the bigger picture behind showing graphic images makes it acceptable – at least with some specifications. In his article Carvin claims he stuck by his editorial standards.

“Share graphic footage, but with a warning and enough context for people to decide whether to view it. Share graphic footage not because it’s salacious, but because people should have the right to bear witness. Share graphic footage, because we can’t let the bastards get away with this.”

In my journalism classes we have been taught that images can be powerful and spur needed movement. But we have also been advised to follow our morals and do the right thing. An great example that comes to mind is a famous photo we were shown, that had been published in a 1985 newspaper. A child had drown in a local lake and their family mourned beside the body.

hart-park

The photographer received hundreds of threats. They called it “pornography”. He also won prestigious awards. The question in my mind is: Did the photo do anything productive? Say, make people think twice about letting their children swim without a lifeguard or some kind of supervision present?

Another example that comes to mind is speaking about methods of obtaining photos. Invading privacy (like the example above undoubtedly) or failure to help someone in dire need. (A photo of someone in a burning car, for example). If putting the camera down will save someone’s life, you have to make that call.

In an entirely new perspective, an article on Reported.ly speaks about the protests in Mexico in which people used their naked bodies as a form of expression regarding missing students and what they believed to be a “corrupt” government. The journalists who wrote this article state:

“In our society, it’s more alarming to see a naked body, than to see a charred cadaver in column 8 of the newspaper.”

Once again we’ve reached a thin line. In this scenario, we see a very significant purpose and a way to get people’s attention. That’s not to say that newspapers and magazines should be able to fill their pages with nudity, but with warning, these images should be shown in certain outlets.

Graphic images in journalism are controversial and will always remain so. However, they have historically impacted people in one way or another, and isn’t that a pretty large part of our purpose as storytellers?

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