Does the Media have an Obligation to Portray Fairly?

The recent George Zimmerman case shows examples of how unfairly the media portrayed Zimmerman by posting a picture of a much younger Trayvon Martin compared to a prison photo of George Zimmerman in an orange jumpsuit. Now, the media wants to create a story that gets people’s attentions and thus to sell advertisements, which is not necessarily in itself immoral. However, Zimmerman is a real person and deserves a balanced and fair portrayal, as does Trayvon Martin. While both pictures of the two are legitimate, they are legitimate pictures that have been chosen with a very specific intention: to make the story more appealing and thus to get more attention for advertising revenue.

Take the following pictures of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman respectively:

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

While they are both legitimate pictures of the two, they have been hand-picked to favorably portray Martin as a child and to unfavorably portray Zimmerman as a criminal.

Of course this can be done in reverse, for example the following images which show the two, but this time Martin is portayed unfavorably and Zimmerman favorably:

George Zimmerman vs Trayvon Martin

It is most definitely interesting the way in which pictures can be handpicked to give specific portrayals of people in conflict and to unbalance those portrayals. However, as the news organizations that have been running these photos are essentially large, professional networks a question arises: does the media have an obligation to portray people fairly and in a more neutral manner?

It is important to recall that while they need a drama to sell advertisements, that drama is at a cost to real human beings. It also risks sending our societies into disarray by implying a situation is different than it truly is. The US law seems to be in favor of free speech, but surely moral obligations do not end at the law. Furthermore, free speech for an individual and for a large media corporation with interests in making money rather than expressing their true opinions is a highly problematic concept.

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