Codes of Ethics and Photojournalism in Germany

Essay, 2010

14 Pages, Grade: 2

Katja Möhl (Author)


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. The Power of Photography

3. Codes ofEthics in Photojournalism
3.1 Codes of photojournalistic Ethics
3.2 Codes of photojournalistic Ethics in Germany

4. The Conduct ofEthics and Photojournalism
4.1 Conflict reporting

5. Conclusion

6. References

1. Introduction

A lot of essays have been written, when it comes to the approach of codes of ethics injoumalism. In globalizing times, where the Internet serves as an increasing news source, it is of importance to rethink the existing codes of ethics and to frame them in a broader, transnational context.

If this, sooner or later, leads us to a Global or European code of ethics, has also been one of the main topics in the media communication research field, as Tiina Laitila for example defines commonjournalistic codes of ethics within the European countries.[1]

But whereas common ethical rules and guidelines regardingjournalism in general seem more clear and discussed in several studies, ethical codes in terms of photojournalism are still not defined in a normative way. Especially in times of the digital age and its mistrust it brings concerning digital photography, there is an increasing need of clear ethical guidelines for photojournalism.

To demonstrate the importance of codes of ethics in photojournalism, the impact visual images possess, will be discussed and reconsidered in the beginning.

On the basis of these ideas, this essay will examine whether or not ethical codings exist in the field of photojournalism with a special emphasize on Germany.

It will be analyzed, if a German code of ethics can be defined, or if a broader, transnational code of ethics can be assigned regarding photojournalism.

As a concluding part, the conduct of photographic codes of ethics will be discussed with the help of single conflict images.

If a photojournalist respects the rules of codes of ethics or not, doesn't make his or her work often easier. Especially when it comes to war or conflict reportingjournalists often have the dilemma about how to behave as a photographer in critical situations.

Images, as for example the worldwide discussed picture of the starving child in Sudan taken by Kevin Carter in 1993[2], made us aware of the ambivalent decisionsjournalists often need to make.

In comparison to print, news photography is morally challenging and often difficult tojudge, considering the obvious participation of the photojournalist.

The taken picture in its visual expression clearly interweaves thejournalist in a more public way than it confronts printjournalists. Publishing a picture with your name, shows actually that you, as ajournalist, have been on location, which demands immense responsibility and commitment.

2. The power of photography

First of all it might be said, that the author will focus exclusively on press photography, when analyzing and discussing the power and the ethical value of photgraphical images. This happens with the intention to avoid any confusion with the overall term photography.

In our culture we are confronted with all different kinds of media, distributing unfortunately often terrifying documentary photographs.

Usually we take the pictures, published in the newspaper or on the Internet, for real and as the most photographic images, we take that realism in that image for granted. Since photography emerged, several philosophers as for example André Bazin in his famous article „The Ontology of the Photographic Image“[3], have written down theories about the power and impact photography has on society. Even though we learned, that photographic images cannot be seen as objective or hundred percent realistic, because every photographer choses his or her subjective aperture of a situation, images are still handled as the mirror of reality in the news. Often, it is even the case that news facts count as undone, if we cannot see any picture as 'evidence.'

The photographic image has a power in itself, which is hard to define. It opens us the window to the world and in the press it is the window to a war, crime, crisis or tragedy.

„As Schopenhauer once noticed "photography [...] offers the most complete satisfaction of our curiosity". The medium pleases the reader even if we talk about atrocity on a print. It also pleases its own "sensationalist and voyeuristic tendencies".“[4] To see, is still understood equally with our belief of what we see.

But how real is it what we see? The window we are looking through has recorded the action, which happened in a fraction of a second, on paper and in our mind. What happened before and after the photograph was taken is not recorded.

It is still the photographer who frames that window we are looking through.

Just as the time factor, other objects and circumstances are subjectively excluded from the reality of a photograph - circumstances which cannot be captured with a camera.

It is very essential to bare that in mind, considering, that someone who is reading the newspapers everyday will grasp and understand a picture's news context in a much more deeper and broader way, than someone who is reading the newspaper for the first time. Or to say it with Huxley's words: „The more you know; the more you see.“[5]

Using the ability of photographic power, the goal of the media is „to produce powerful pictures so that the viewer will remember their content. Images have no use if the viewer's mind doesn't use them.“[6]

Functioning as the mediator of photographs, media institutions are very powerful.

„The connection between the expressive media and receptive audience creates an amazing description of a mediated public.“[7]

In a media dominated world as today, photographs are unavoidable.

This influence carries moral responsibilities associated with power for media practitioners and media institutions. „These practitioners are responsible for the impact of their work on individuals in the audience even if there is no intention on the part of the practitioner or the industry to cause harm.“[8] This responsibility counts also for photojournalists whose aim is to enlighten the audience or the individual, when publishing realistic conflict images.

Media institutions also fulfill social functions, since they have the responsibility tojustify what is published. This task becomes very challenging, considering the image's power of creating stereotypes, as a form of easy accessible communication. Media often make use of stereotypes, which bears the danger, that we start ignoring „the individuality of people and treat them as proxies for some group we have decided they should represent. We stop treating them as real persons in their own right and treat them instead as artificial persons, which means as extensions of a category we have contracted. In short, we deny them their humanity.“[9]

This combination of stereotyping and prejudice becomes even more malignant in regard to pictorial imagery. The well-tried and often stressed phrase says that a picture is worth a thousands words. „We might suggest a new one to the effect that even a million words may not be able to undo the negative impact of a bad picture.“[10]


[1] Laitila, Tiina (1995). Journalistic Codes of Ethics in Europe.



[4] imgurl= JKtnpqXbdbXOxcMHI0LWPGY8hY8=&h=314&w=473&sz=38&hl=de&start=1&zoom= 1&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=_awGVMtcwk3z6M:&tbnh=86&tbnw=129&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dstarving%2Bchild%2Bsudan %26um%3D1%26hl%3Dde%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26sa%3DN%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:de:official%26tbs%3Disch:1

[5] Lester, Paul Martin (2001). Visual Communication, p. 4

[6] Lester, p. 5

[7] Lester, Paul Martin (1999). Images that injure. Chapter 1

[8] Lester, Chapter 1

[9] Lester, Chapter 2

[10] Lester, Paul Martin (1999). Chapter 3

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Codes of Ethics and Photojournalism in Germany
University of Hamburg
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Codes, Ethics, Photojournalism, Germany
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Katja Möhl (Author), 2010, Codes of Ethics and Photojournalism in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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