Awards, Photojournalism

World Press Photo head Lars Boering on introducing stringent new Ethics Code to ensure ‘truth’ of entries

World Press Photo judges at work in Amsterdam during last year's judging. Image courtesy World Press Photo

World Press Photo’s Lars Boering says a comprehensive new code of ethics helped the 2016 competition “stay on top” this year, after previous years were marred by accusations of image manipulation.

Code of Ethics

The five-month review culminated in WPP’s first code of ethics, which launched on 25 November, just before the 2016 competition opened for entries. The announcement which accompanied the launch laid out the organisation’s intent in black-and-white, stating that: “A code of ethics will mean the global audience can trust the veracity of its prize-winning pictures and stories.”

The overall purpose of the new code is to “ensure the photo contest, masterclass, exhibition, book and planned magazine reward and promote photojournalism and documentary photography that embodies the core journalistic values of accuracy, fairness, transparency and accountability”.

“As one of the foundation’s long established activities, we want the photo contest to reward the skills of the photographer to make the best single-exposure, single-frame pictures – either individually or as a story or long-term project – that are great contributions to visual journalism,” Boering told BJP. “All the creative elements of photography can be used, but they have to serve the purpose of reliable journalism. We want the audience to have trust in the accuracy of the pictures that win awards and are shown in our exhibition, so, for the first time, the contest has a code of ethics that sets out what we expect from entrants.”

The review was led by David Campbell, visiting professor in the Northern Centre of Photography at Sunderland University, who previously researched The Integrity of the Image report for WPP and directed its multimedia research project. “It was a very consultative process,” says Campbell, who also served as the secretary to the World Press Photo general jury for the 2014 and 2015 contests. “It was very much about engaging the community, presenting drafts and getting feedback to come up with solutions.”

Taking its lead from comparable codes of ethics at media organisations, the review involved 17 consultations with photographers, editors and publishers, at events held in 15 cities around the world. The new code offers detailed specifications as to exactly what is expected from submissions – from captions to staging to post-processing and manipulation – and also states how images submitted to the prize will be judged and verified. In future, images that reach the final will be verified by an independent fact-checking team over five days, in the period between the jury’s decision and the public announcement of the winners.

For Campbell, the challenge was to “make these issues clear without limiting the creativity of photographers to tell the best story”. He says toning of images was a particular issue for the judges. “If you apply enough heavy toning to certain areas, you can actually obscure details in the background to the point where you’re taking out content,” he explained. “That’s where we drew the line.”

“We wanted to be a think tank that wasn’t afraid to have an opinion or take a stand – on everything from new business models for visual journalism to the necessity of opposing restrictions on free speech; even if that made us more vulnerable,” added Boering. “We want to help lead the visual journalism community by offering quality information, rigorous analysis, informed debate and the most creative approaches to reporting and storytelling.”

As such, the foundation is also launching a number of new initiatives, including an online channel that will commission and curate new work and report on the opportunities and challenges of photojournalism. The channel will be on a standalone website coordinated by foundation staff and an external group of contributing editors.

And as for the sceptics who claim WPP’s reputation is still in doubt, Boering has declared himself “ready to answer their questions”. “We are confident we have found a way to make World Press Photo stay on top,” he told BJP.

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