(N.B.C.) Images, Ideas and Morality

By Thomas Olsen-Boyd





Firstly a journalist like any other human being has an obligation to save innocent lives. In the case of the child severely burnt on the railway tracks in Shanghai or in the case of a monk who has set himself on fire in South Vietnam it would appear that the decent thing to do for a journalist or any other person would be to prevent the person from dying. 

However there are also several reasons why a journalist should not save the lives of these people.  

One reason for not saving the life of the child or the monk who set himself on fire would by Public Morality. That is as the employee of a media company, you have an obligation to the owner or the boss to take the picture so that the newspaper can sell more copies and make more money. 

However I believe this argument is much too weak. It would be a lot like saying “I can not save the child on the street from being hit by a bus because I have a four o’clock meeting that I will miss”. Many people would say that your obligations as a good human being would force you to forget about your commitment to your job and save the child. 

Therefore the last and strongest argument that I can think of against saving the life of the child or the monk is for the sake of an idea or cause. Photos like these bring to the world’s attention the atrocities and frustrations inflicted on the people depicted in the pictures. In the case of the burning Shanghai baby the world saw the atrocities that the Japanese army was committing in China and it bought about international condemnation of the Japanese government for allowing it to happen. The same can be said for the burning South Vietnamese Buddhist monk. The photo was shown all over the world and was the catalyst for change in US foreign policy concerning their government’s vital backing of the Diem regime. This withdrawal of support eventually led to the assassination of Diem.


2 responses to “(N.B.C.) Images, Ideas and Morality

  1. Interesting post.
    I would hope that the photographer could take the picture and help the child.
    It is a tricky business being a wartime journalist, and a great deal more worthwhile than the dross that regular journalists throw up each morning.

  2. That’s a good point Chris, and I think that a journalist would have an obligation to do both. However you have to assume that a journalist would only have a very short time to make the decision. Another important point is what if the person is being burnt for a cause or idea you do not believe in? Do you now have a different set of obligations?

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