DOCTORED: Kim Jong Il, Hilary Clinton, and ethical photojournalism

Kim Jong Il shown with his regiment. Experts allege the image to be doctored as highlighted in the encircled area - Time, n. d.

In an attempt to quell rumours that Kim Jong Il is suffering from a stroke or has even died, the North Korean media released the above image, which experts allege to be doctored(Time, n. d.). Aside from manipulation to attain ideological goals as epitomized by North Korea, ethical conflicts involved in photojournalism are exacerbated by cultural disparities. Globalization and the Internet have enabled published works to reach both the intended and

Girl caught in Iraq War. High Desert Wanderer, 2006.

unintended audience, heightening possibilities of misunderstandings by the unintended audience concerning ideological conflicts, engendering bias judgments among the audience that may affect vital decision-makings (Kressel, 1987).

Photojournalism relates news through perspectives of photographs and captions (Lucaites & Hariman, 2001). The power of salience and perspectives in constructing meaning (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006) is central in photojournalism. Due to the seeming appearance of neutrality, there is a propensity for the masses to believe in photographs rather than written pieces (Lucaites & Hariman, 2001). However, editing technologies exposes the Archilles heel of photojournalism. The digital removal of both Hilary Clinton and Audrey Tomason from an original photograph of otherwise male politicians has infuriated feminists against Jewish paper, Di Tzeitung, which defended itself on the grounds of Jewish culture which does not visually display women (The Guardian, 2011).

Ethics is the conflict between a personal standpoint and the requirement of impartiality (Nagel, 1987). Ennobled with the task of sustaining the public sphere (Ferree et. al, 2004), journalists should demarcate personal stance from impartiality (Nagel, 1987) when providing context for raw information. The culture advocated by Di Tzeitung is pardonable as long as proper acknowledgements pertaining to photographic alterations were made because this does not alter the

Doctored image of Di Tzeitung removed Hilary Clinton and Audrey Tomason - The Guardian, 2011.

fact that both Hilary Clinton and Audrey Tomason were present. If culture equals the maintenance of methods within a society that is constantly changing (Wallerstein, 1990), then communication to a people is most effective when using the method of communication they are most familiar with. The duty of journalism is after all, to inform. However, this deontological view of photojournalism ethics must be balanced by a consequentialist stance. Doubtless the duty is to inform regardless of consequences, but the consequences of embedding or approving the embedment of particular ideologies must be accounted because it will affect Truth indefinitely. Just like the widely circulated photograph of the Russian Revolution which omitted Leon Trotsky and thereby largely negated his contribution to the revolution (Time, n. d.), the case of Di Tzeitung will only be pardonable if acknowledgements of alterations were made.




1) Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. 2006. Reading images. Chapter 6: The meaning of composition, Routledge, London.

2) Kressel, N. J., 1987, ‘Biased judgments of media bias: A case study of the Arab-Israeli dispute’, Political Psychology, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 211 – 227, viewed <>

3) Nagel, T., 1987, ‘Moral conflicts and political legitimacy’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 215 – 240, viewed 11 November 2011, <>

4) Lucaites, J. L. & Hariman, R., 2001, ‘Visual rhetoric, photojournalism, and democratic public culture’, Rhetoric Review, vol. 20, no. 1/2, pp. 37 – 42, viewed 4 November 2011, <>

5) Time, n. d., Top 10 doctored photos, viewed 11 November 2011, <,29307,1924226_1949553,00.html>

6) The Guardian, 2011, ‘Orthodox Jewish paper apologises for Hilary Clinton deletion’, 10 May, viewed 2 November 2011, <>

7) Wallerstein, I., 1990, ‘Culture as the ideological battleground of the modern world-system’, Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 31 – 55, viewed 8 October 2011.


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