Code of ethics of photojournalists for a better image


By Odoobo C. Bichachi

When the Covid-19 vaccination program started at the start of the year, there was a hubbub over whether the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, had taken the vaccine or not.

Two sets of videos have emerged on social media; one showing a nurse “pretending” to give the minister an injection, then dropping the syringe and another showing her being injected. The confusion was further compounded by the fact that the setting, location and time of the videos were more or less the same.

So was she stung or not? This question influenced – and perhaps still has – the acceptance of the vaccination campaign among a part of Ugandans who argued that how could they trust the safety of the vaccine which the Minister of Health did not had no confidence and only “pretended” to be stung just for the cameras; for the show!

From what I gathered later, it turns out that the “no jab” video was shot after the “jab” video following a request from some reporters who had failed to record the actual moment it was made. received the jab so that they have a photo or video clip to broadcast with the story of the launch of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign by on their newsletter.

This explains the presence of two apparently contradictory videos. If the ministry had had its own media unit that recorded the “moment of the jab,” all it would have done would be to share the video with reporters who arrived late instead of the minister trying to replay the moment.

In my column last week, I mentioned the code of ethics for photojournalists with specific reference to pornography of the dead or mourning pornography. In the case of Minister Aceng’s Covid-19 jab, photographers and videographers broke one of the nine cardinal rules of photojournalism, namely: “do not stage news photos”!


The staging of photographs presents several problems, the first being that the photojournalist is lying, whatever the intentions. And as we all know, it’s hard to cover up all aspects of a lie! Something will surely give way, as it usually happens with sugar granules stuck on the chin or somewhere on the lips of a child who swears never lick sugar!

As indeed happened in this case, the “innocent lie” was spotted by a keen onlooker who saw the nurse drop the syringe after pretending to inject the minister and it almost inflicted irreparable damage to the minister. the vaccination campaign.

Uganda’s press law, the 1995 press and journalism law, has a rather superficial and general code of ethics. Oddly enough, photojournalism is barely mentioned anywhere in the code underlying the peripheral processing of very central and graphic media content.

Other jurisdictions, however, have fairly elaborate codes of ethics guiding almost all aspects of journalism. For the benefit of photojournalists and the news-consuming public, I have taken the liberty of sharing the United States National Press Photographers Association’s Code of Ethics to shed light on what is missing in our rules.

It is said:
“Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are responsible for adhering to the following standards in their daily work:

  • Be precise and complete in the representation of the subjects.
  • Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  • Be comprehensive and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups.
  • Recognize and work to avoid presenting your own prejudices at work.
  • Treat all matters with respect and dignity. Pay special attention to vulnerable topics and compassion for victims of crime or tragedy. Only enter private moments of mourning when the audience has a compelling and justifiable need to see.
  • Although the subjects photographed do not contribute, modify or seek to modify or intentionally influence the events.
  • Editing must maintain the integrity of the content and context of the photographic images. Do not manipulate the pictures, add or modify the sound in such a way as to mislead viewers or distort the subjects.
  • Do not pay for sources or subjects, and do not reward them materially for information or participation.
  • Do not accept any gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  • Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

As you will notice, the above provisions are clearly intended to enhance the accuracy, integrity and confidence in any photographs or videos shown to the public. It also aims to differentiate photojournalism from event photography and citizen journalism driven by the drive and search for the perfect ‘Kodak moment’.

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