Time magazine published a cover of O.J. Simpson in the June27, 1994 issue. Time illustrator, Mark Mahurin, digitally manipulated the photograph to make Simpson’s skin tone darker. Newsweek ran the same photo for their cover, but it was unaltered.
The conflicting values in this case are honesty v personal gain from improved level of work. These values cause one to examine which principles of journalism ethics were crossed.
Truthfulness of the photograph, how accurate was the photo and was the photo fair to the subject?
Is it ethical to manipulate a photograph for a private aesthetic reason, such as raising the level of your work?
Truthfulness in any published work is of utmost importance. To be untrue in your work, even once, reflects upon all of your past, present and future projects. In addition, untruths damage the media world around you, including your employer and peers.
Accuracy of any published work is also very important. It is a top priority of a journalist’s job to be accurate in all aspects of reporting. Inaccuracy can lead to massive misunderstanding by the audience, an audience which extends far and wide. The media plays a huge role in educating the public.
Fairness to the subject in question, as well as being fair to the reader is a result of whether or not the principles of truthfulness and accuracy were crossed. It is unfair to the subject in the photograph to be portrayed in a false light. It’s also unfair to the magazine’s audience because they are unknowingly being deceived.
At the time of publication, Simpson was on trial for the murder of his wife. The darkened image could lead the public to misinterpret the photograph and believe that he was guilty, because our society tends to look upon darker skinned black people as being of a lower social class, more criminally inclined and more likely to be guilty of a wrong-doing.
Value-based theory, deontological theory and teleological theory, the three philosophical foundations of ethics, apply to this case.
The value-based theory, based on care, is related to the fairness principle that was crossed. Care of the subject was not taken, evident by the blatant unfairness of the situation. Duty-based ethics is also called into question because it is the journalist’s duty to uphold all ethical aspects of his profession. To fail in this matter means to fail to accomplish a finished work. Finally, teleological theory involves the consequences of the questionable ethical problem. This theory was put to work because of the natural response society has to personality traits associated with certain races, and the misinterpretation of these stereo-types.
The illustrator in question crossed the ethical lines of his profession when he digitally manipulated a photograph, prior to publishing.
The public audience might view the altered photograph of Simpson and rightly presume the photo to be a true picture of him, to be an accurate photo of the subject within the context of the photographed environment and bearing these theories correct would result in fairness to both the subject and the public audience.