1. The ethical issue/problem. The boss of the private college’s communications office asks the student who is responsible for “the alumni engagement” campaign to use the digitally modified photo in the brochure. Such action is virtually dishonest and may be easily revealed because there are numerous participants and witnesses involved in the situation. Thus, it can be perceived as a deliberate and flagrant violation of minorities’ rights and the photographer’s copyright.
2. Immediate facts include:
– the boss wants the photo of the large crowd of happy students to be used in the “alumni engagement” campaign;
– the photo does not represent the ethnic diversity of the college’s student population;
– the “alumni engagement” campaign is aimed at engaging different students, including representatives of various ethnic groups;
– ethnic tolerance does not only concern ethics, but also has a legal dimension;
– the photo is taken by the photographer and may be changed only with his/her consent;
– there are many witnesses of the winning moment that the photo depicts;
– digital manipulation is a fraud and violation of a photographer’s copyright;
– the boss’s position is predominant and determinative in the system of “supervisor-subordinate” interrelation.
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3. Possible claimants:
The student who is responsible for the campaign. He/she is supposed to conduct the “alumni engagement” campaign in a way that causes no harm to the students’ community of the college, maintains good relations with colleagues (including the photographer), and follows the orders of the boss. (Duty of non-injury, a duty of fidelity to the boss and the photographer.)
The boss of the college’s communications office. The boss ought to maintain the viability and efficiency of the communications office by providing decent media production in order to influence the chosen target groups in a desirable way. He needs to protect the right to provide the information he considers right and necessary despite public opinion, which may often be different. (Duty of fidelity to the profession, college, and students’ community; self-improvement.)
The photographer. He/she needs to protect his/her copyright and allow publication of photos only in their original form (Duty of fidelity to the profession.)
Ethnic groups of the private college (Asian and African-American students). They have the right to be equally represented, similarly to the white students; they also deserve the treatment of their ethnic diversity with respect, but not discrimination. These students are especially vulnerable to the way of their presentation in mass media; furthermore, the issue of racial segregation is one of the most urgent in modern society. (Duty of justice, the duty of non-injury.)
The members of the white students’ community. They tend to follow different public tendencies and are sensitive to media information. Although they are not chauvinistic, a discriminative approach used by the communications office may be perceived as a silent agreement on segregation among the students. (Duty of non-injury).
The radical students. The students who share the discriminating position also have the right to freedom of their views. (Duty of non-injury, justice.)
The private college (institution). It is interested in creating a positive image of an educational establishment that not only provides students with decent knowledge, but also preserves a unique atmosphere of friendship, tolerance, and equality between students and alumni’s community (Duty of fidelity to students’ community, a duty of self-improvement.)
The alumni. They have a right to be proud of the educational institution they have graduated from. The level of their participation in alumni’s activity is closely related to their feeling toward the college. (Duty of gratitude to the college).
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4. The alternative courses of action.
The first alternative. To obey the boss’s order and manipulate the photo to supplement it with Asian and African-American students who were originally not pictured on it.
The second alternative. Refuse to obey the boss’s order.
The third alternative. Find another photograph which represents the ethnic diversity of the students’ community, and suggest the boss one’s own variant of the brochure.
5. Analysis of the alternatives.
a) Best- and worst-case scenarios.
The first alternative: Under the best of circumstances, the students’ community of the private college will not pay attention to the photograph or notice digital manipulations; the photographer will not make claims; “alumni engagement” campaign will cause a desirable effect, and the student responsible for it will get his/her appraisal from the boss. Under the worst of circumstances, this photo will become the primary focus of the campaign, followed by all possible consequences. Asian and African-American students of the college will become a subject of mockery, and their feelings will be offended. The photographer will make claims and accuse the college’s communications office of fraud. The reputation of the college will be undermined and it will be losing its popularity among applicants, including representatives of various ethnic groups.
The second alternative: In the best-case scenario, the boss will ask explanations and decisions on conducting the campaign of the student responsible for it. Whereas replacing the student responsible for the campaign with another employee of the communications office or removing him/her from the position will be the worst outcome of this alternative.
The third alternative: In the best-case scenario, the student responsible for the campaign will succeed in making or finding another appropriate photo, which coincides with the vision of his/her boss. The campaign will, therefore, be successful without any shadow of ethnic discrimination. In the worst-case scenario, the student will fail in finding a decent photograph; his/her search will cause the campaign’s delay, which, in its turn, will result in returning to the initial idea of manipulation or choosing a bad photo, which will make the campaign not effective.
The first alternative: Implementing the boss’s idea of digital manipulation can significantly harm the representatives, both students, and alumni, of Asian and African-American ethnic groups. They may initially know that they were not among white students when the photo was being taken, so adding them through digital manipulation may be offensive, as well as a sign of disrespect. According to the degree of inflicted harm, the photographer is the next. Changing his/her photograph may be considered as damaging the author’s work and violating his/her copyright. This situation will certainly influence the reputation of the communications office, including the boss and the student responsible for the campaign, and the private college. The community of white students will be harmed indirectly through a hidden allowance to neglect the rights of minorities.
The second alternative: Refusal from digital manipulation will cause initial harm to the student who is responsible for the campaign. Then, adverse outcomes will touch the boss, who will have to find another person that will obey him.
The third alternative: Radical students will be the most harmed group in this case. At the same time, the boss will not be satisfied with the refusal of his idea and will, therefore, give the student who is working on the campaign more tasks than before.
c) Conflicting ideals: Freedom of press and censorship (communications office), respect for professional rights (photographer), ethnic/racial tolerance (students’ community, including minority ethnic groups, radical students, and alumni), freedom from moral harm (students and alumni’s community), respect to the opinion of minorities (radical students).
The first alternative: Implementing the boss’s idea is a decision that lies within the scope of organizational responsibility (freedom of press and censorship). However, violating the photographer’s copyright and rights of minorities is also challenging. Nevertheless, avoiding causing harm to the latter claimants prevails.
The second alternative: Refusing from implementing the boss’s idea is related to violation of the freedom of the press and the student’s professional right to make responsible decisions, including refusal.
The third alternative: Despite the fact that this alternative is aimed at compromise, it involves two ideals: ethnic tolerance and respect to the opinion of minorities.
Any of the ideas mentioned above cannot invalidate the alternatives; they rather guide any option in a particular way inherent to them.
d) Laws, rules, and principles.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics emphasizes the need to avoid stereotyping by race and ethnicity or promoting conflicts of real or perceived interests. This statement invalidates the first alternative,for it is the ground for provoking ethnic conflicts. It will not apply to two other options if a correct contextual photo is chosen. The First Amendment, pursuing to preserve the common good of the society, likewise, leads to the third alternative and invalidates the first one.
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6. Applying situation-based theories to the proposed alternatives.
a) Because of possible harm overweighing initial good intentions, the first alternative could be rejected by Mill’s Harm Principle. However, it supports two other alternatives.
b) Egoistic motivations can be particularly observed in the first alternative, which represents the easiest approach, whereas two other alternatives presuppose fulfilling a more complicated task. Moreover, if to consider that the success of the campaign is inextricably related to the outcomes regarding the student who is responsible for it, the boss, and the college’s reputation, one can clearly see egoistic motives in each of the three alternatives.
c) Due to the fact that the third alternative causes the least harm to the people involved and does not imply giving privilege to any majority groups, it can be supported by Mill’s Utilitarianism. Because of the prevailing number of white students, the theory rejects the first alternative.
d) Aristotle’s Golden Mean theory that implies compromise decision supports the third alternative.
e) Virtue ethics supports two last alternatives, whereas the first one is contrary to the rules of professional ethics.
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7. Applying absolutist theories to the proposed alternatives.
a) The second and third alternatives are mostly oriented on social harmony and equality. Such a view corresponds with Kant’s Categorical Imperative theory which supports them but rejects the first alternative.
b) Two last alternatives imply looking at the root of an issue that coincides with the “Veil of ignorance” approach; it, thus, supports them and rejects the first alternative.
c) High ethical and professional responsibility is inherent in the second and third decisions, whereas the first one is characterized by low social responsibility.
8. The chosen course of action. The analysis represented above shows that the third decision appears most suitable from ethical and professional points of view, as well as a perspective of social responsibility.
9. Defense (a letter to the boss).
For our “alumni engagement” campaign you asked me to use the photo which depicts only the white students’ community of the college, which, unfortunately, does not represent the existing ethnic diversity of our establishment. Your suggestion to make some digital manipulation and supplement the photograph with Asian and African-American representatives is possible to fulfill, but it seems questionable whether this will make the campaign successful or, vice versa, nullify all our previous achievements.
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I believe that digital manipulation may not only fail to avoid ethnic conflict but also make it more fierce. By committing such a fraud, we will focus the community’s attention on this photo and make students discuss it broadly with a shadow of disrespect to the students who were “added”, as everyone probably knows that they were not in the picture. Such a situation will not only harm the feeling of ethnically diverse students but also violate a friendly atmosphere in the college and cast doubt on our professional reputation.
This seems to be an extremely high price for using this particular photo. Because of this, I assume that it is better to spend more time and effort to find, or even make, another photograph which will be less controversial. I hope you will take my opinion into considerations and allow me to start implementing such an alternative approach to making the “alumni engagement” campaign not only bright, but also tolerant, friendly, and safe for the college’s community and communications office’s reputation.