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Canon violates journalistic ethics...twice

Canon, who makes fantastic cameras, uses the NFL to force professional photographers to choose between ethical behavior and no paycheck. Time to call them offside.

Earlier this year the National Football League (NFL) announced new "security" rules requiring that all professional photographers wear NFL-issued red vests or lose their stadium access. What the photographers discovered was that these NFL-issued vests also carried the Canon logo, and that has led to outrage and protests across the professional community. Turns out that outrage was justified.

CNET senior staff writer Stephen Shankland covered this controversy in a NewsBlog posting, and the National Press Photographers Association makes it quite clear what Stephen reported: that Canon put professional photographers into an ethical pickle, and they are furious. So furious that the Chicago Tribune, for example, has decided that if the NFL won't change the vests or their rules, they will "cover the NFL without visuals."

In theory, any random Joe should be free to endorse any random product and, if they are lucky, be paid a fair price to do so. But when a person of a specific profession makes a specific recommendation related to that profession, it should be completely clear what compensation, if any, is being paid. And such compensation should be fairly negotiated between the two parties. Would you want to know if your doctor was being paid to push a drug on you (or that the drug's regulator has a financial interest in the companies they regulate)? Would you want to know if your financial planner was paid by companies whose stocks he's recommending (or that they don't even know what they are selling)?

Sadly, fewer people and organizations are upholding high ethical standards as companies find new ways to push people from neutral to biased territory. That in turn makes many of us suspicious when we read a glowing review in a magazine or on the Web. And yet, some crave-worthy products are worth buying. And some products are of such quality that they are worth recommending. I have bought and used Canon cameras and lenses for nearly 30 years, and they are fantastic products in every way: mechanically, electronically, and optically. As products go, I recommend Canon. And no, I have never been paid a penny by Canon to endorse its gear. So what's the beef?

As an industry leader, Canon should know that the first job of the photojournalist is to faithfully and accurately report the news through images, not to become an image unto themselves. Forcing photojournalists to become props at the events they cover violates the first principle of the job. And now Canon is using just such images to promote its gear:

Red Storm Rising.
Inspired. By Canon. Canon


But that story was already told, its consequences predicted. What makes this report news is the following image, copied from a print ad in Newsweek magazine last week:

False Colors.
Falsified. By Canon. Canon

Do you see that these are almost the same pictures? Except that the lens hoods in the online photo have been "enhanced" in the print ad. Here's a better picture showing real lens shades in use:

Real photographers, real cameras, real clothing.
Lens shades don't have lenses! Canon

As you can see, there's no lens at the end of a lens hood--that would defeat the entire purpose! I find the altered image particularly disturbing because I own several of these beautiful white lenses, and it's just so unnatural. Look again at the Newsweek ad and you can see how stupid those lenses look with the lenses painted on to the end of these massive lens shades. And you can see how ridiculous is the claim that the NFL makes, which is that the logo on the vest is just acknowledgment for financially supporting the manufacturing of the vest itself, not an advertisement. Visible or not, Canon has used these photographers to tell a photographic lie in a print ad. It's advertising!

The professional photographers were right to cry foul on the NFL's collusion with Canon. Now those who wear the vest have not only the shame of ethical breach, but the degradation of appearing as props in a blatantly manipulated image. What does this have to do with parenting and technology? Canon is a leader in digital photography technology. But its advertising campaign stinks by corrupting those who are responsible for reporting the truth. We have ample evidence that ethical compromise is a slippery slope, leading good photographers to make questionable choices. Unless we are prepared to doubt everything reported that we do not witness firsthand, we need to do more to protect, not pressure, the integrity of photojournalists.

Canon's lack of judgment provides an interesting 21st century object lesson. Perhaps next year my daughter will be reading The Red Vest rather than The Scarlet Letter. What a shame, because those who wear the vests are not the guilty, but the victims.