Knight Center
Knight Center


Grappling with the ethics of releasing and publishing graphic photos of Osama bin Laden's body

Raising questions about photojournalism ethics, U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that the photo of Osama bin Laden's body will not be released publicly, reported The New York Times.

As Obama told CBS' Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes, "It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool."

The Daily Beast's Harold Evans wrote that Obama made the right decision not to publish the photos. Publishing such graphic photos, he argued, require a "fitness of purpose," answering such questions as: Is the event it portrays of such social or historic significance that the shock is justified? Is the objectionable detail necessary for a proper understanding of the events? Is the photograph expressive of humanity?

Publishing a photo of bin Laden's body, Evans said, would do nothing more "than indulge a prurient curiosity."

Still, Deborah Copaken Kogan wrote for Reuters that the decision is a "slippery slope," as sanitizing photos distors history.

Poynter addresses how journalists should deal with the decision to publish graphic photos, if images of bin Laden's body are leaked.


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