Saturday, January 25, 2014

Photo Manipulation in Journalism and Advertising and the Need for Ethics

Recently, AP announced that they have severed all ties with Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, Narciso Contreras, for violating their ethical standards after Contreras altered a photo he took last year in Syria.

Image Credit: AP
Image Credit: Dove
Using photo-editing software in advertising is not considered entirely deceptive. Disclaimers aren’t required for distinctly altered advertisements.  The public is aware of the prevalence of photo manipulation in ads, and companies like L’Oreal have had ads pulled in the past. But for the most part, many advertisers are free to alter the shape can change the shape of a model’s body or perfect imperfections. These practices might make money, but their ethics have been questionable, and it can have real consequences on an advertiser’s audiences.

However, you can sell a product without resorting to unethical photo alterations in order to do so. Recently, Aerie launched its Real” campaign, which featured models without the use of photo-editing software. Dove also has the “Real Beauty” campaign.

Contreras violated the first rule of AP guidelines (and the SPJ code of ethics), which is “Seek the truth and report it.” None of his other photos were altered.

The seriousness with which Contreras was dealt with is justified. Altering a photo as a journalist is somewhat like fabrication when you’re writing a news story. You’re adding, omitting, or just making up information.

If you are a journalist or photojournalist covering an event, the public is counting on you to faithfully document an accurate, honest representation of the scene.

However, in advertising, the ethics of photo manipulation are more loosely defined, and are viewed by some as necessary and widely accepted throughout the industry. There is no argument that manipulated ads can be creative and thought provoking, yet is photo manipulation considered dishonest?

Thanks to government and industry regulation from organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission and the National Advertising Division, false advertising is actively dealt with and limited.

Nissan, TWBA, and the FTC recently settled a deceptive advertising case in which a Nissan Frontier truck is shown pushing a dune buggy up a steep dune. The FTC said the truck couldn’t actually drive up the steep dunes shown in the ad (which were modified to look steeper than they were) and that cables were used to pull the truck and the dune buggy.

Advertisers should be held to the similar ethical standard as journalists in deception. It’s one thing to be creative; it’s another to be deceptive. In the Nissan/TWBA case, ads that sell products give the impression that the product will behave exactly as intended, yet in this case the use of special effects could cause a potential danger to the consumer.

Advertisers can be creative and truthful. Last year, Volvo did a series of “Live Tests,” which were stunts featuring Jean Claude Van Damme doing epic splits and a Hamster driving a Volvo Truck. There are countless more advertisements that demonstrate creativity and truth about the product or brand.

Ads have permeated our culture, and therefore have a wide influence on a large number of people. Advertising is used to inform, engage, and entertain, with the ultimate or underlying goal of getting someone to buy something. It also seeks to enhance the image of a brand. If you want people to be interested in your brand, you have to be truthful. You don’t necessarily have to say the bad things about the product, but you shouldn’t misrepresent it intentionally.

“Truth in advertising” must mean truth about the product. So do people really believe that anti-aging products will keep you from aging when the model on the page has clearly been digitally altered?

part, advertisers are free to alter the shape can change the shape of a model’s body or perfect imperfections. These practices might make money, but their ethics have been questionable, and it can have real consequences on an advertiser’s audiences.

In photojournalism, the phrase “seeing is believing” is often used. However, as a consumer, in response to advertising, it’s often expected that what you see is usually not what you get. If you walk into a fast-food restaurant and order a burger, you know that the burger isn’t going to look as good as it’s depicted on the menu.

Though the public knows the use of photo manipulation is widely used and accepted in the advertising industry, the practice doesn’t exactly build trust or confidence among audiences. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why many people don’t trust advertising. These qualities should be a company’s main goal if they are trying to sell a product.

Advertisers should also act in the best interests of the consumer. Although advertisers are in the business of selling things, if they are truthful, they are doing a good service for a large number of people by imparting unbiased, accurate information so consumers can make an informed decision without being misled.

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