In the past two decades, newsrooms around the world have undergone significant changes in photographic and image processing techniques. Traditional photojournalism tools of analogue cameras, film, darkrooms and chemicals have given way to digital cameras, scanners, computers, the internet and electronic archiving. Some hail this change a sign of evolution in the science and art of photography, while others warn of a revolution with serious consequences for the credibility of photographs in general, and for photojournalism ethics in particular. This study of 12 daily newspapers in Australia, Britain, France and the United States examines the impact of these developments on photojournalism ethics domestically and cross-culturally. The philosophic concept of truth in journalism is traced historically, before focusing specifically on the ideal of veracity in news photography. A written survey and oral questionnaire are used to provide evidence of tolerance for image retouching and manipulation techniques at different organisational levels in each newsroom. These results are used to explore the ethical questions at the heart of the debate on digital imaging and to help define future challenges in photojournalism.
This study shows few differences in attitudes to photojournalism ethics within Australian newspaper "types" or organisations, with so-called "quality" newspapers no more likely than "popular" newspapers to provide guidance or training in photojournalism ethics relating to digital technology. The only notable area of divergence is the level of confidence in ethical standards and the photographer's control over the final published image, which was found to be greater at "quality" newspapers than at "popular" ones. However, more substantial differences emerged in cross-cultural comparisons of attitudes to ethics, with American photographers least likely, and British photographers most likely, to approve of the study's defined manipulation practices. As a general rule, Australian photographers' approval rates were around mid-way between these extremes, but attitudes at French newspapers were more difficult to quantify for a variety of reasons. Participation in professional training programs in photojournalism ethics was extremely limited in all countries, except in the United States. Furthermore, while there was evidence of substantial intra-organisational differences in attitudes to ethics between managerial layers in Australia and Britain, these were far less marked in the United States and France. The research ends by outlining some resulting professional developmental challenges and advocating an overhaul of previous approaches to photojournalism ethics.