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The mass media, especially magazines and newspapers, increasingly use photo manipulation as a way of creating a provocative, creative, and dramatic visual boost that contributes to its promotion and higher profits. It is obvious that a simple photo manipulation is acceptable in case one wants to remove red eyes. However, the situation is totally different when the mass media intend to completely alter the appearance of someone’s photo. Thus, it is vital to remember that the ways of photo manipulation violate the principles of media ethics, as they are premised on the deception and fabricated reality. Consequently, photo manipulation is a way of violation of media ethics, deception of readers, a driving force of scandals, and a tool for generating profits and advertisement for the mass media that can also influence the quality of UAE media.
Photo Manipulation as the Violation of Media Ethics
Media ethics is associated with the compliance with the moral principles, namely tolerance and respect for human rights and freedoms. Furthermore, media ethics presupposes fair treatment of every person. Not without a reason, Halbrooks (2017) writes that media ethics allows simple photo manipulation if it is not related to the change of people’s appearance. However, unflattering photos also need help sometimes; therefore, there should be balance when helping someone to look better. Editors should make a decision themselves about using flattering or unflattering photos; thus, they agree on this point with the heroes of their articles to avoid confusion and deception (Gulf News, 2017). Another step that proves media ethics are followed is the treatment of everyone fairly, as any kind of discrimination can lead to scandals and damage to the corporate image (Gulf News, 2017). It is obvious that any photo manipulation should be clearly disclosed, as it can be perceived with sharp criticism or even lead to imprisonment. For example, the depiction of O.J. Simpson in 1994 by Times and Newsweek was different, as Times’ photo showed Simpson’s skin noticeably darker that proved racial bias (Halbrooks, 2017). According to Gulf News (2017, p.1), “Journalists should be very vigilant to traps of discrimination and avoid involving themselves by any means in any stories hinting to discrimination of race, sex, language, faith or national and social backgrounds”. It means that the mass media should think about the consequences of their tendencies to photo manipulations.
Photo manipulation can change or influence people’s perception of reality making it idealistic and deceptive. Mass media abuse with the usage of Adobe Photoshop and other editing tools that deprive one of reality, creating a new perfect image. Thus, they try to manipulate not only with information but also people’s consciousness, imposing the ideal canons of beauty on them. There is nothing strange that non-Photoshopped pictures of celebrities can shock the audience, as people became used to edited, filtered, altered, and modified photos. As to the mass media, the reasons why they manipulate the photos are diverse, namely racism (darkening Simpson’s mugshot) and political interests (removing two people from the photo of Barack Obama by The Economist) (Brändlin, 2015). Another way of photo manipulation is cropping that can also change a picture and its meaning. For example, a picture depicting two U.S. soldiers in Iraq is the object of manipulation, as one soldier is giving water to an Iraqi soldier, and another is holding a gun to that soldier’s head (Brändlin, 2015). Consequently, cropping can be the way of depicting the U.S. soldiers as aggressors or helpers. Thus, the mass media have all tools for photo manipulation and can do this easily, influencing culture, social life, politics, and economy.
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Photo manipulation is not only an ethical issue but also a legal one. Not without a reason, the legal restraints can be applied to protect human rights and oblige the mass media to be careful with photo manipulation. First, copyright law grants fair use of information and images in the mass media. Thus, the violation of copyright rights is dependent on the effect on the community, amount and sustainability, nature of the copied work, purpose and character. Second, the mass media should not be reliant on the constitution that guarantees freedom of the press, as it will not protect them, when they provide the negligent publications, provoke defamation, privacy, and publicity issues that can lead to bearing criminal responsibility. Moreover, the mass media should avoid contract and copyright challenges to retain their positive corporate image.
Photo manipulation is the deception of readers, especially those who are used to trusting newspapers and magazines. Most photo editors reject photo manipulation, but, obviously, they do it with the certain purposes. For example, fashion magazines and their canons of beauty can have a negative impact on the young readers, leading them to dangerous eating disorders and low self-esteem (Black & Roberts, 2011). Moreover, this problem is reinforced by the innovative technologies and values clashes that are used by means of mass media to make profits and create the probability of harm to the target audience. According to Black and Roberts (2011), magazines electronically distort models’ bodies and make them look unnaturally thin that leads to the growth of the dissatisfaction with body and appearance among young people. Consequently, photo manipulation makes people addicted to magazines and their vision of beauty and values.
Photo manipulation is a driving force of scandals, as the mass media present the fabricated reality. Thus, journalists can use pictures that are old and not related to the written article. For example, Benjamin Chesterton wrote in his Twitter that a recent article “British Drivers Attacked in Calais by Migrants before EU Referendum” by Heat Street was premised on the photograph not made near Calais. Next day, the picture was changed (Conscientious Archives, 2016). Furthermore, photo manipulation is a tool for generating profits, especially when talking about politics. For example, journalists of photo agency Magnum Photos presented Another Crimea in the light that proved their engagement in political and ideological manipulation (Conscientious Archives, 2016). Consequently, it is obvious that there could be diverse ways of generating profits. Finally, all examples show that the mass media use photo manipulation for its advertisement, especially when they try to flatter celebrities and other famous people with Photoshop tricks.
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The Case of Photo Manipulation and Its Impact on the UAE Media
One of the most discussed cases of photo manipulation was in the USA when O.J. Simpson’s photo was electronically darkened by Times and was different from the picture placed in Newsweek. It is obvious that Times did that intentionally to add the more sinister look to O.J. Simpson but provoked debates and discussions related to the violation of media ethics and reinforcement of racism. Another case of photo manipulation refers to Bobby and Kenny McCaughey, the most famous parents in the USA. Their photo was also computer-enhanced by Newsweek. Thus, Newsweek’s picture depicted Mrs. McCaughey’s smiling, depicting white, small and even teeth. As to Times, it showed another photo, where Mrs. McCaughey’s teeth were not quite straight and white (Brändlin, 2015). Consequently, that case put both magazines in an uncertain and unethical situation that proved that some photo editors focused too much attention to photo manipulation.
These cases have no direct impact on the UAE media, but they are good lessons to their media, as they imply the importance of media ethics and reveal the negative consequences such as the damage to reputation. As to the UAE media, they also have many legal and ethical issues due to frequent cases of inability to represent accurate and true information. Not without a reason, board members of the Journalist Association and editors work according to “Journalism Charter of Honor” that involves the respect for law, human values, justice, truth, reality, and principles of freedom (Khamis, 2017). The advantage of the UAE media compared to other countries such as the USA is that it is praised for the reliable content. Their main principle is the provision of honest and transparent content when delivering something to the audience. Furthermore, the UAE media is characterized by the integration that involves merging both modern and traditional media that contributes to the country’s interests (Khamis, 2017). Thus, the UAE media pay much attention to high quality, credibility, and reliability.
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In conclusion, it is necessary to say that photo manipulation is a way of violation of media ethics, as it contradicts moral principles, namely tolerance and respect for human rights and freedoms, and changes people’s perception by means of deception. Therefore, it is a driving force of scandals, as there are many situations and disagreements between the media in the depiction of information, especially in regard to the use of photos. Photo manipulation is a tool for generating profits, as journalists can earn much more money when the case relates to issues such as politics and ideology. Therefore, this is the problem of both legal and moral nature. It is also a means of advertisement for the mass media, as they depict celebrities to be perfect and use their names to promote media image and reputation. Consequently, the state of affairs in the world media can influence the quality of UAE media, which are characterized by credibility and transparency.