Symposium Addresses World Press Controversies, Other Ethical Issues

ATHENS, GA (October 29, 2015) - Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism hosted a photojournalism ethics symposium titled “Image Truth/Story Truth” on Friday, October 16, in New York City. The daylong conference largely arose as a result of the well-publicized controversies surrounding the World Press Photo competition earlier this year. Columbia professor Nina Berman and Gary Knight of Tufts University organized the event, which was designed to delve deeper into issues raised in light of the WPP situation, and also address context, story truth, framing, and other issues.

NPPA was represented at the symposium by President Mark Dolan and Ethics Committee Chair Sean Elliot, the latter of whom was a program participant. Both came away with some interesting observations.

Elliot said the announcement of a code of ethics for the World Press Photo Contest was the headline from the event.

“So in theory that should give people who've been concerned in some way maybe peace of mind that everybody entering the contest is going on roughly the same page on an ethical standpoint,” Elliot said.

Dolan stressed that the code shown at the conference was just a draft, but he said to the credit of World Press they’ve been seeking input from people around the world on the code.

He also said World Press provided examples of alterations that disqualified images. They didn’t show specific photos, but World Press said those examples will be up on their website, according to Dolan.

“So hopefully that will alleviate questions from not just NPPA members, but for the photojournalism community at large in terms of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable.”

Dolan also noted that he is impressed with “how seriously they're taking this and what they've done to try to move past it, I think (WPP Director) Lars Boering has shown some really good leadership in this,” he said.

Elliot added that “the rest of the day was an ongoing, very complex and sometimes very deep discussion of a lot of the ethical issues that exist in our industry.”

He said very little time was spent talking about digital manipulation because it’s not something that many people think is ethical in the first place. But there’s still a lot of questions to Elliot about why people do it. What hasn’t come out of the controversy to him, is what was going on in the minds of the 22 percent of people who made the penultimate round and were then disqualified for alterations.

“That's something that I think that NPPA would still really like to (see) educationally,” he said. To “get a better grip on what kind of things are falling into this category for World Press' experts and what exactly is the mind of people who are doing these things. Do they not understand ethical standards, do they not think what they're doing is digital manipulation? It would be really nice to understand that better.”

Elliot went on to say that another theme that several panels talked about was staging and being manipulated by people staging events. He said that to him the quote of the day was when Fred Ritchin said “photo ops must be resisted aggressively.” To Elliot, that was one of the key takeaways from the day. “ I tweeted it, I thought it was really critical.”

“In theory the symposium hopefully is a first step of an ongoing effort,” he said, and he hopes ethical programing and workshops will continue.

NPPA's long-standing Code of Ethics is online here.