Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ebola in the news: photo journalism ethics when writing about disease

About a month ago the CIME blog released an article about the media coverage of Ebola - and the ethical travesty it had become. Fear inducing headlines, terrifying graphics, and information that made even level-headed, healthy people in the US want to self-diagnose themselves with the disease. Over the last 10 months there has been a lot of criticism of the media’s handling of Ebola, yet the fear mongering has continued, commonly in the form of photo journalism.

One Poynter article claims that two types of graphics tend to be used:

  • Images of the virus (nasty, scary, up-close, and colorful); and
  • People in hazmat suits

To this list we could probably add photos of people in afflicted countries, generally those who are being treated for the disease.

The following are five images discussed in the Poynter article, displaying a range of images and headlines about Ebola:

(Australian Courier Mail)
(New York Daily News)
(San Diego Union Tribune)
(Alabama Times-Journal)
(New York Daily News)

Photo credits for all five images above: Poynter
Are these the best pictures to accompany stories about Ebola?

Poynter quotes Andrew Seaman, who works for Reuters as a medical journalist and serves the Society of Professional Journalists as the ethics chair, as saying that “the images must tell the story accurately. For example, the image should probably not be that of a person suffering with Ebola in a small Liberian medical center if the story is specifically about what is happening in Texas...The experience of people with Ebola in Liberia is - for the most part - much different than the experience of patients in the U.S.”

Similarly, Seaman makes the point that the choice of the image might be ethical, but might become sensationalized if paired with a poor headline.

Photo journalism ethics can be tricky at the best of times, but when dealing with the spread of contagious diseases they become particularly difficult. How can journalists choose the most ethical images to pair with their articles on Ebola?

- Kate Davidson

Sources:
Poynter
The Guardian
Code Words
CIME - The media myths about Ebola

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't let editorial endorsements become a thing of the past

Photo credit: Berkeley Graduate Division
It’s late October and the leaves have begun to change color and fall to the ground. Soon it will be hard to walk outside without fighting an urge to relive our childhood by doing a superman dive into a bunch of raked leaves. If you live in the US, and you care at all about politics, you also know this means that you have 3 weeks to decide on who you will be voting for in the upcoming mid-term election. Chances are if you’ve been an active voter in the United States, you have come to expect a certain set of fixtures that have always coincided with our mid-term elections. Things like: debates, meet & greets, and - our time-honored tradition - smear campaigns. However, there is another time-honored practice of the democratic voting process that has lost some of its mojo in recent years, which has come to the chagrin of many registered voters. In case you weren’t sure, I am referring to newspaper endorsements. Newspaper endorsements or editorial endorsements have been an institution of US elections for decades if not centuries. Yet newspapers have recently become somewhat fickle with their attitudes towards endorsing political candidates around election time.

It seems that newspapers have become increasingly anxious about backing candidates. In an age when newspapers are hemorrhaging advertising dollars and when competition for readers and circulation is at an all time high, there has been a concerted effort by dailies to try and remain as independent and neutral as possible when it comes to elections. Despite this fact, you would be hard pressed to find an editorial section in any major newspaper that doesn’t feature an opinion on a politician or politics. But really, is this trend towards neutrality consistent with the “watchdog’ or protector role that we have always sought and expected from our press? If we can’t trust our newspapers to help us decide on who to vote for, how can we trust them to keep who we vote for honest?

The mid-term election at hand is of note because it comes at a time when many Americans are unsure how to feel about politics. According to a recent poll conducted by Politico, a majority of respondents expressed feelings of uneasiness and doubt regarding the current state of affairs in the land of the free. These fears include looming threats of terrorism and the spread of Ebola, with the latter fear having been recently exacerbated by the shortcomings of both WHO and the CDC. The ISIS crisis and second round of Obamacare enrollment has also been a source of anxiety for American voters. With so much alarm in the air it would seem that this election would be an opportune time for our press to come to our aid by helping us come to clear decisions about who deserves our vote. With voter turnout in midterm elections lower than presidential elections in every election cycle since the 1840s, perhaps political endorsements could be a cause for activism and maybe even inspiration instead of apathy. By endorsing candidates and informing us about them, I believe that newspapers and other media entities can help engage us during election season, especially minorities and young people who traditionally are more likely not to participate in elections.

This year’s midterm election will decide 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 33 in the Senate, and 34 in gubernatorial offices. With the advent of negative campaign ads, political scandals, corruption, and special interests, voting in the US has become like navigating a minefield. As such it would be nice if we could count on the press and, more specifically, our newspapers to help us out come election time. November 4th, 2014 will be a very interesting day in the United States. One thing for sure is that it is always a more compelling day when newspapers make our voting decisions more interesting by endorsing the people who want our vote.

- William Korte

Sources:
ACLA
Politico
Columbia Journalism Review
Pew Research Center

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cartoon ethics: Boston Herald apologizes for watermelon toothpaste cartoon

Watermelon flavored toothpaste?

Cartoon that appeared in the Boston Herald on October 1st
Photo credit: iMediaEthics
In a recent iMediaEthics story, author Sydney Smith explored the racial implications of the above cartoon, which was published on October 1st in the Boston Herald. Smith explains that “for those too young to know, a time-worn African-American racist slur identi[fies] blacks with watermelons.”

The cartoon, whose caption read “White House Invader Got Farther Than Originally Thought,” referred to Omar Gonzalez’s entry into the White House on September 19th. After being told by his cartoon syndicate to change the text, cartoonist Jerry Holbert quickly altered the words to read “raspberry flavored toothpaste,” but the original version was already being used by the Boston Herald. Holbert apologized for the mistake, explaining the innocuous origins of the decision to use watermelon toothpaste - “his son’s girlfriend had left Colgate Kids watermelon toothpaste at his house” - and saying that he “was completely naive or innocent to any racial connotations. I wasn’t thinking along those lines at all.” The Herald apologized as well, with the editorial page editor admitting “It’s my job as an editor to see around corners, to look at all the possible meanings and nuances of words and of images...it’s my job and two weeks ago I failed at it miserably.”

Cartoons are common in many media organizations, and are a form of picture journalism. As drawings, every element, every caricature, and every politically satirical detail is crucial - yet cartoons are often criticized for the way they portray groups or ideas. For example, the New York Times recently apologized (on Facebook, not on their website, according to iMediaEthics) for a cartoon showing a man “labeled ‘India’ wearing a turban. The man, holding a cow on a leash, is knocking on the door to an ‘Elite Space Club’.” And who could forget the 12 Danish cartoons published in 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad, one of which showed Muhammad standing in the clouds telling suicide bombers “Stop, we have run out of virgins!” and another that replaced the Prophet’s turban with a bomb.

Cartoonists have the difficult job of drawing politicized, sensitive content. They often bring satire to serious news. For that reason they must be hyper-aware of the implications of their work. Will all cartoons, by virtue of being caricatures, offend somehow? Or is there a way to balance the nature of a cartoon with its subject?

- Kate Davidson

Sources:
iMediaEthics - Obama watermelon toothpaste cartoon? Boston Herald says 'Unacceptable' in 'racial overtones'
iMediaEthics - NYTimes apologized after racism complaints for India cartoon
Boston Herald
BBC

Saturday, October 11, 2014

One disaster shouldn't beget another

Photo credit: jrn.com

If you’ve been following the news over the course of the last few months, you probably are aware of the South Korean ferry that capsized back in April that resulted in the deaths of 300 people and became a source of tremendous shame and controversy in South Korea. In the aftermath of the disaster no one has been immune to outrage and criticism; condemnation has been directed towards the captain and crew, the South Korean media, and the government. At the heart of the growing scorn has been what is perceived by many in Korea as a bungled response to the disaster by the government and disaster relief officials.

An article written by Tatsuya Katso, a Japanese journalist, and published back in August has added insult to injury to the maritime disaster. Katso’s article has brought into question the whereabouts of South Korean President Park Geun-hye on the day of the tragedy. In light of the article being published, widespread rumors began claiming that the president engaged in an extramarital affair and was ostensibly with the adulterer while the tragedy was unfolding. On Wednesday, Katso was indicted by South Korean prosecutors on defamation charges, stemming from the aforementioned article, which questioned the South Korean president’s status during and after the ferry disaster.

It has been well documented that the ferry catastrophe has gashed morale and national pride in South Korea, creating a sense of embarrassment that has riddled a country that prides itself in research, development, innovation, and advances in transportation. Does indicting a foreign journalist who was attempting to bring attention to something that begs for analysis and investigation add more or less indignity to the country?

Damage control should never be more important than getting to the bottom of a tragedy, especially when people have lost their lives. If South Korea really wants to regard itself as a modern democracy, be considered a country full of innovation, and be worthy of celebrated rankings for things like “tech density,” then there must be outrage and disapproval for any suspected assault on press freedom. When a journalist who attempts to undercover truths for the betterment of a populace is charged with a crime that same people and society must take action; for if no action is taken to defend the public’s best friend (press freedom) than that society may not be worth fighting to begin with. What good is being ranked #1 in the world in innovation or being an economic juggernaut if your press can’t question the actions of your national leader without being charged with a crime?

- William Korte

Sources:
Forbes
The Huffington Post
Wikipedia
NBC

Friday, September 26, 2014

A big thank you from the CIME blog!

We would like to give a big thank you to everyone who participated in the fourth annual International Media Ethics Day!


This year the IMED was bigger than ever, with over a hundred workshops organized in over fifty countries! Here at the blog we blogged intensively on media ethics issues ranging from plagiarism to the media's reporting on Ebola. Look for new posts coming up on more media ethics issues!

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the IMED, and let us know what you think about media ethics!

- The CIME bloggers

Friday, September 19, 2014

US/ISIS - Propaganda War

Department of State Video.
Photo credit: CNN
In early September the US Department of State issued this video as a counter attack in the propaganda war between Isis and the United States. The video, which is graphic to say the least, was made as a sarcastic recruitment advertisement. Images of men jumping off of cliffs, severed heads, innocent people being bombed and so on dominate the screen while statements like “travel is cheaper because you will not need a return ticket” flash to the viewer. According to the Daily Mail “The campaign, directed at Muslims in the United States, aims to counter the Islamic State's powerful social media machine which has been used to recruit fighters from across the world.”

To be sure, there are many problems with this video that came from the Diplomatic arm of the United States Government. It is violent, it is cruel, and above all else, it portrays what bureaucrats must believe to be funny. The sarcasm that is employed to convey the anti-Isis message is a dangerous road to travel for anyone, let alone the government (which is not known for its sense of humor). The video banks on the viewer being able to understand American sarcasm.

With the International Media Ethics Day occurring once again, one would have to ask if governmentally produced media should be held to the same standard as all other forms. If this video were produced by Fox News or CNN, there would most likely be a backlash. The fact that the State Department were the ones to release the propaganda piece is baffling. If diplomacy is the aim, one would imagine making a mockery of and disrespecting the group of people who "pose a multi-faceted threat to the United States" is surely not the way to go about any peaceful resolution of the ISIS conflict in Syria or Iraq.

- Carol Davey

Sources:
CNN
Daily Mail
Time

Ray Rice, the Ravens, the NFL, and the video

Ray Rice, previously a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was dropped from the team and suspended indefinitely from the National Football League (NFL) after a second video released by TMZ showed him punching Janay Rice, his then-fiance (now wife), unconscious in an elevator.


Ray Rice in his Baltimore Ravens Jersey
Photo credit: ohlays
Rice was arrested and originally charged with third-degree aggravated assault for the incident, which occurred last February, but the charges were later dropped in favor of court-supervised counseling. He was suspended from only two games from the upcoming football season.

Despite the first video shown of the incident, which displayed Rice “dragging the unconscious woman out of an elevator and dropping her face-first on the ground,” the Ravens supported their teammate and Rice received only minor punishments. It took a second video, actually showing the assault within the elevator, to lose that support and to earn Rice his suspension from the League.

The second video has been credited with drawing increased outrage over the NFL’s handling of domestic violence incidents, and resulted in a change to the NFL’s domestic violence policy. However, people have also argued that the constant playing and re-playing of the clip without consent has also “re-victimized” Janay Rice. Her statement, published on instagram, is as follows:
I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But you have to accept the fact that reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is! Ravens nation we love you!
Dave Zirin, who writes about sports for The Nation, points out that in all the questions about the incident, “No one cares that [Janay Rice] is now going to have to relive this incident over and over again...Just as we would protect the name of an alleged rape victim, just as we would not show a video of Ray Rice committing a sexual assault, we should not be showing this video like it’s another episode of Rich People Behaving Badly.”

Roger Goodell. Photo credit: Lammatlarge
On the other hand, however, the public nature of the video has put pressure on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to actually address the rampant issues of domestic abuse within the NFL. While claiming he had not seen the second video until it became public (a claim Zirin among others finds unlikely), Goodell said he "didn't get it right" on Rice's two game suspension. The new policy that he has put forward (after the public outcry over the original punishment), is “a six-game suspension without pay for the first offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense.” This penalty will apply to “all NFL personnel, including executives and owners, not just players.” Additionally, three women who have professional backgrounds in the fields of sexual assault and domestic abuse have been hired to assist forming better policies.

Zirin has pointed out that the footage of the assault is “the only thing that’s making people believe Janay Rice,” and that “the NFL has a history of horrific moments of violence against women.” He argues bitterly that what differentiates Rice’s case from, for instance, Ray McDonald, was that “it was caught on videotape, and it is a public relations crisis for the National Football League.”

Should the media be showing the video of the assault, even against the wishes and without the consent of the victim? Does Janay Rice have the right to be protected from public comment and the media and to move forward without the constant reminder of the footage? Or should the video be shown in order to change the way an entity like the NFL, a league with a history of domestic violence, deals with such assaults in the future?

- Kate Davidson

Sources:
Democracy Now
The Nation
CBS Sports
SB Nation