News Agencies and Photos

As a News Agency you generally do not want to become news. You are there to bring the news, not to be a subject. Especially not if this is for the wrong reasons, like the doctored photo from an Iranian rocket launch Iranian News Agency (IRNA) published and then had to retract. See here the New York Times story. Or when Chinese news agency had to apologise for something far less threatening – doctored antelopes in a picture from Tibet – see the WSJ story here.

I like a comment of a reader on the NYT web regarding the Iranian missile story:

Clearly someone thought 4 missiles would be 33% more scary than three… or they thought it really tied the composition together, which, I have to say, it actually does.

Of course it is hilarious, but I do not think it can be shrug off just because the two examples are of news agencies in the parts of the works where generally there are certain ideals higher than the truth, to put it, hopefully, so as not to offend.

Even Reuters had a similar case and a very public one in 2005 when its photographer faked a photo of Beirut with added plumes of smoke to add drama to a story about bombardment of Lebanon. This was not found out by Reuters themselves but by others who saw the photo. When Reuters started investigation, another doctored photo by the same photographer was found.

They realised that they have a problem not with one or two photos but with trust as Tom Glocer, the CEO of Reuters later wrote. Reuters not only fired the photographer but also his editor. And Reuters removed every photograph that reporter ever took from their files.

When I first read about it, I thought it might be just a little bit excessive. But I agree that it was not. It was not an honest mistake by the reporter, but deliberate attempt to mislead. In media business news agencies are supposed to be the golden standard of fact checking. The BBC Editorial Guidelines say that BBC journalists must check everything for themselves – except for respected news agencies.

The downside of doctored photos published by any news agency is that everybody gets reminded how easy it is. As John Nack from Adobe jokingly wrote in his post regarding the Iranian missiles: “Now, excuse me while we get back to work making it even easier for various Great Satans to fake you out. “He, however, also noted that Adobe is working with major news agencies on technologies to allow image authentications and there is an interesting web regarding this issue here with “digital detective” Hany Farid.

It is now easier to doctor photographs and more people know how to do it, but it did not start with Photoshop as the vaults of our own news agency show. When you are a news agency with part of its history under Nazi occupation and part under Communist government, believe me, there are moments when you do fake your photographs.

Such as when one of the top guys from the Politburo gets executed, which means you cannot – obviously – show him on a photograph exchanging smiles with other top Politburo guys, as yet unexecuted, and even less with Soviet Comrades present. So off you go to the darkroom and perform some dark magic.

The advantage of this is that when you get free there is an idea for a successful exhibition and a book from CTK photographs that for some reason had to be doctored or could not be published. It is part of country´s history…

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Added on July 12

Found this on another blog.

Added on July 15

It was probably bound to happen – this is The Daily Show take on the doctored photos