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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

US: ethical double standards for war photographs?

In May, The Los Angeles Times published a study finding that very few photos of dead or wounded American service members were printed in 6 major U.S. newspapers during 6 months. According to Editor & Publisher the survey "found almost no pictures of Americans killed in action at a time when 559 Americans and Western allies died; the same publications run just 44 photos from Iraq to represent the thousands of Westerners wounded during the same period." One primary reason is assumedly logistical: sometimes there might be no camera or it is too dangerous for photographers. Other photographs might be too late or never reach newspapers due to different rules which embedded journalist have to obey as The Detroit News suggests: "A complex machinery sifts out many other images before they reach print. Photographers embedded with the U.S. military agree not to use photos that show the dead or wounded if faces can be recognized. A rule requiring notification of family members means that some photos are held for so long that they lose their immediate news value. In other cases, stateside photo editors rule pictures too graphic for publication."

But even if photos are transmitted, they are sometimes left unused. Editor & Publisher cites Moises Saman, a long time photographer for Newsday, who believes that "so few pictures are appearing in American papers because of a double standard that ... reflects the nature of our society. 'Americans understand we are at war - but not many people want to see the real consequences, especially when they involve one of your own. I think some publications cater to this sentiment by trying not to anger subscribers and advertisers with harsh 'in-your-face' coverage of the true nature of war.' "

Editor & Publisher refer also to David Swanson, a Philadelphia Inquirer photographer, who was embedded with Echo Company and for whom "the dearth of photos of the dead and wounded smacks of 'situational' ethics: 'There's less chance of publishing a mortally wounded American on the cover than that of an Afghani or Iraqi.' " For Swanson "the poverty of images has removed death from the war: 'It's war, whether you agree to it or not ... death needs to be shown. You have to know what you might lose before you commit so many lives. A country needs to be reminded that an 18-year-old has just died, and that Memorial Day and Veterans' Day are not just days for picnics at the beach.' "

And Democracy Now, an American community media collaboration, notes that "images of thousands of dead U.S. soldiers helped to turn the tide of public opinion against the Vietnam War, but now photo-journalists are even banned from military funerals at Arlington national cemetery."

Sources: Editor & Publisher, The Detroit News, Democracy Now

Posted by Anna-Maria Mende on July 20, 2005 at 02:35 PM in g. Photojournalism, o. Ethics and Press Freedom | Permalink

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