Feedback on Journalistic Ethics

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Feedback on my Journalistic Ethics post from Paul Clements and Gary McLeod.


Such a coincidence that only last week I was talking about Joan Diddion’s book ‘Salvador‘ and quoted from the introduction written by Tim Adams:

Her writing exactly demonstrates the role of the journalist in a world where information is everywhere and truth is nowhere to find‘.

Interesting also that you use the example of Nick Ut’s photograph too. It was taken in 1972 when American Combat Troops had disengaged from Vietnam and Nixon’s Policy was already made up to withdraw completely from that conflict … so I don’t think it changed anything per American Foreign Policy in that region.

It’s also interesting that the media were overwhelmingly in favour of of both Johnson and Nixon’s Vietnam pro-war stance during the war. It wasn’t until 1968/9 when Nixon changed his mind that the media changed their mind too.

You only need to see how that operates with our own media from their support for war from The Falklands through to Iraq and Afghanistan. they were all pro-war – including The BBC, The Guardian and Observer, especially over the invasion of Iraq.

I don’t think it’s a question of ethics with the media. They’ll use or not use images to suit their own purposes and individual power-play positions.

And the person or thing photographed is the target, the referent, a kind of little simulacrum, any eidolon emitted by the object, which I should like to call the Spectrum of the Photograph, because this word retains, through its root, a relation to ‘spectacle’ and adds to it that rather terrible thing which is there in every photograph: the return of the dead …’ Barthes, Camera Lucida, 2000:9.

Lee Miller … Dachau 1945. I am absolutely fascinated by this image.

Did you see Lewis Bush and his review of the McCullin Exhibition?


I need to ponder. In 1972 the US was still bombing the crap out of Cambodia and had combat troops in Vietnam if I recall, despite the planned ‘vietnamization’. Nixon was on record as worrying that Ut’s pic was deliberately staged to change public opinion.

I do agree though that the media tends to follow rather than lead. And when they do today – Osborne’s American Shame headline – they often use a blunt, hyperbolic instrument.


Interesting. I hadn’t seen the recent image. I always turn away from images of children, for obvious reasons. Interesting nonetheless. I went back to your framework post as that seemed more helpful

I suppose it would help to know how yours advances on Lester’s framework, or perhaps I missed that. For me, the thing that bugged me about Lester’s thinking was that someone would already be in a position of evaluating the image (i.e. in education). Showing that framework to undergrads led me to realize that they would rather look away than engage in a critique using it.

So I guess a problem is making such a framework accessible and, dare I say it, performative in situ. Does that make sense?

The emotion I have when looking at an image is strong but I can step back (try to). Younger people are less equipped to do that. It’s emotionally easier to turn away or blast the whole system, neither of which is productive.

Let me think on it some more … My feeling though is that a framework needs to be somehow easier than abiding by emotions.


Thanks Gary. I’ll think some more. Couple of immediate thoughts come to mind. On children, despite the taboos I think we need to encourage an appropriate way of looking. Perhaps they are a special case. Elkins (seems to me) makes the point that we need to distinguish between what is in the picture and how we can interpret it – Lingqi et al. Children another case?

Secondly, totally agree that there’s a need is to have some framework which is accessible and useable in situ – yet comprehensive. Lester does not deal with culture, power, change dynamics – focuses more on roles and western ethical ‘syllogistic’ models. I do need to properly work through that.


Header: Lee Miller. 1945. Dead SS Guard floating in Canal. Dachau.


BARTHES, Roland. 1980. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill & Wang.

DIDDION, Joan. 1983. Salvador. 2017 Edition. London: Granta Books.

LESTER, Paul Martin. 2018. Visual Ethics. New York: Routledge.

PENROSE, Anthony. 2014. Lee Miller’s War: Beyond D-Day. London: Thames & Hudson.

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