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Media Ethics: Photojournalist Seen Staging Picture At Brussels Memorial


A live report from a memorial set up in honour of the victims of the Brussels terror attacks showed a photojournalist posing a young girl for a photograph. Journalistic ethics are clear that news photos must not be posed, but the photographer who took the shot, Khaled Al Sabbah, insists that the photo was just for his Instagram account. “My main ultimate goal is to take an aesthetic photo in solidarity with children no more, no less, a photo that shows the humanitarian side … Fix my mistakes instead of criticizing me,” he wrote in an explanation on Facebook. He has removed the photo from Instagram.


Sabbah identifies himself as a photojournalist across his social media presence, and the photo has reignited the debate about trust in the press and standards of training.  Former New York Times photographer Michael Kamber told The Guardian, “It’s one more example of a photographer doing something that destroys public trust in the media.”


Kamber has reported from across the globe, and claims the problem of posed photographs is particularly widespread in Iraq where the practice is “fairly routine” because the majority of media outlets in the country are owned by political parties or individuals with strong party ties. He has previously staged exhibitions about ethics in photojournalism and points out that lack of training and technological advances have contributed to poor practices.


“You’ve got a lot of young photographers who I think are, to no fault of their own, not really trained in photos and ethics,” he told Petapixel in August last year. Staging is widespread, and digital post-production and images published out of context are also part of the problem. “There are major photographers who have submitted photos to World Press that are demonstrably false, and they were allowed to keep their prizes. You can go on World Press’ site today and see that their photos are up there. These are photos that we know were staged and faked. That’s quite an extraordinary thing.”


Trust is vital, and the best images have the potential to change the course of history, Kamber believes. “Great photojournalism, good solid, honest photojournalism, has been a catalyst for historical and social change around the world. Those photos that I am speaking of were not staged; they were not setup. People believed in those photos. Those photos were a catalyst for social change because people believed what they saw was real.”


In a world where Instagram images compete in an instant, constant news cycle, questioning what one sees is more important than ever.

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