Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Truth vs The Ethics

Can ethics come into play when you are showing something real and true? Should they come into play? Should people's emotions and fears be taken into account? How does a journalist decide when and when not to break the law?

During George H.W. Bush's presidential term, a ban was put on photographing the loading and unloading of deceased American soldier coffins that have been draped with our flag. The ban still stands today, but President Obama is considering getting rid of the ban.

The real question here is...should or should there not be a ban under these circumstances.

My take on the entire situation is that the ban is pointless. There is a reason why we have photographers in the right places at the right time. I understand that some people think it is indecent and an invasion of privacy. But when you really think about it, what is privacy anyway?

Privacy: the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one's private life or affairs. (

With this definition, it makes me realize that there is no such thing as privacy. The government has our phone lines tapped, government and law enforcement video camera's are everywhere, anybody can go to a government associated building and look at other people's personal documents, etc. Everyone's life is on blast 24/7, so why should photographers and reporters not take a chance when it is given to them? Do you believe that the corpses in those coffins are going to be angry that the flash is too bright? Or are you just concerned that the families won't want their deceased loved one's coffins photographed for the world to know what is going on in a place we know very little about.

A woman by the name of Tami Silicio took the picture below of flag-draped coffins being loaded into a cargo plane at the Kuwait International Airport.

Click photograph to enlarge

The photo was picked up by the Seattle Times and was run on the front page of the April 18, 2004 issue with Silicio's permission. The Times had warned Silicio of the consequences of possibly losing her job as a Kuwait base cargo worker, but Silicio gave them her permission anyway. As a result, Silicio lost her job a few days later on April 21, 2004.

Should Silicio have lost her job? Of course not! She wasn't doing it out of spite or anger or any other random emotion. She took the picture because of what it represented and I fear for the people who don't understand her purpose.

Should she have let the Times run the picutre? Of course! People should know about the consequences of having to live a life surrounded by death and turmoil. People should see things like what this picture encompasses and realize that something needs to be done. And things need to be done in a lot of areas.

1) The ban should be lifted and people should be shown what they need to see.
2) The government needs to realize that they can't control journalism. We are not yet government funded.
3) People need to realize that this is righteous information, not random pictures taken to hurt peoples emotions.

It's hard to say where the line can be drawn when it comes to taking pictures as journalists. The picture of the flag-draped coffins is not the same as a picture of a child covered in blood, missing limbs. I still think the child would be a newsworthy picture, but the ethics issue would drench a picture like that.

*As I took an hour or so break from this blog, I have been informed that there has been a relaxation instituted upon the ban of photographing fallen soldiers' coffins. Check and the Pentagon website for more information.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with the point of this post, but I also would like to add another thing to what you just wrote: as soldiers they're representative for the country they fight for. This means, once in uniform are not only people, but the country. So, in such way, the privacy-related ban didn't have sense and I hope had been removed.
    If the ban was more concerned to don't loose motivation in fighting a war, hiding the actual deaths from the mass-media and avoid public discomforts, this is another thing.
    I'm not a journalist, but I studied history and fully experienced one the worldwide best collections of governmental bans and censures ever: this smells like "one of those"!