The recent scandal involving photographer Souvid Datta brings to light the damage that can be done when visual journalists go about their work lacking a strong ethical foundation. Datta’s work was first called out for a photo depicting a 13-year-old being raped and then, as his name was being circulated on the internet, it became apparent that he had also altered some of his past photos by digitally adding elements from other photographers’ work, stealing whole photos from other people’s portfolios and changing the captions to misrepresent the content.
The National Press Photographers Code of Ethics states among other things that:
“Visual journalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and varied viewpoints in our common world.”
“Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy.”
“Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated.”
Datta subsequently admitted in an interview with Time that he manipulated a number of his photos and stole images from other photographers, but that at that time, he had not learned about “journalistic responsibility.”
“I didn't know anything of photographic ethics, about the existence of a serious photojournalism industry or how best to investigate topics as a journalist. But I did come from a background of visual arts and I felt compelled to make images of my experiences in Kolkata, having been especially moved by the stories of the girls I met in Sonagachi,” Datta said.
We believe what Datta did is inexcusable and not only betrays the trust that others placed in him but in an age of “fake news” undermines the public trust in our profession.
It is because of this latest incident that we are reminded that the NPPA Code of Ethics “is intended to promote the highest quality in all forms of visual journalism and to strengthen public confidence in the profession. It is also meant to serve as an educational tool both for those who practice and for those who appreciate photojournalism.”
To that end, we must all now redouble our efforts to repair the damage that has been done and to renew that trust.