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HEADLINES

Reuters Fires Qana Photographer for Altering Pictures

Reuters Fires Qana Photographer for Altering Pictures

Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA

Reuters has fired Lebanese photographer Adnan Hajj, whose photographs gave the world its primary views of an alleged Israeli massacre in Qana that has since been called into question.  The action was taken against after one of Hajj’s pictures of an Israeli attack in Lebanon was shown to have been altered through “the improper use of photo-editing software,” according to Reuters' head of public relations Moira Whittle.  “This represents a serious breach of Reuters' standards and we shall not be accepting or using pictures taken by him,” Whittle said in a statement issued in London.

The photograph in question showed two very heavy plumes of black smoke billowing from buildings in Beirut after an Israeli Air Force attack on the Lebanese capital. As shown in the pictures, the damage appeared to be widespread and indiscriminate.  Reuters has now withdrawn the photograph from its website, admitting publicly that the image they used was distorted.

“Reuters takes such matters extremely seriously,” Whittle said.  And well it should.  As she noted, it is strictly against Reuters editorial policy to alter pictures.  Yet, it took a torrent of objections from all over the world to spur Reuters to action.  It is especially distressing that such an important international source of news and information chose not to apply normal editorial standards before showing the altered photographs.

Almost as soon as the photograph appeared on the Reuters web site, a number of bloggers and others began challenging its authenticity based on even the most elementary analyses of the picture.  Wrote Charles Johnson whose blog, Little Green Footballs, has been particularly active, the “photograph shows blatant evidence of manipulation. Notice the repeating patterns in the smoke; this is almost certainly caused by using the Photoshop ‘clone’ tool to add more smoke to the image.”  A professional photographer added after examining the photograph, “I'll second the cloned smoke...but it looks so obvious that I don't know how the photographer could have gotten away with it.”

Hajj also contributed pictures of the recent Qana incident to Reuters and elsewhere.  It has since been established that photographers worked under Hezbollah supervision and were limited as to what pictures they could take.  Various analysts have demonstrated that time markings on the Qana photographs are out of sync with one another, and that the same “rescue worker” appears at varying times carrying the same body, purported to be that of a child killed in the Israeli attack on Qana.  But the pictures of the same worker carrying the same body were taken at very different times.  Moreover, the worker was dressed in military-style clothing under his orange rescue jacket.  As reported previously in Weekly Blitz (“How Civilians are Killed by Hezbollah in Lebanon,” August 1, 2006), there are a number of questions calling the alleged massacre’s authenticity into question.  They included a seven-hour gap between the Israeli attack and the first reports of casualties, apparent rigor mortis in the victims portrayed in the photographs hours before rigor could have resulted from any Israeli attack, the inflated body count given out by Hezbollah and others, the quickness of staged demonstrations after the incident complete with professionally produced posters attacking US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and other questionable aspects of the portrayal.

In 2002, during Israel’s “Operation Defensive Shield,” many in Europe and Asia quickly took up a Palestinian claim of an Israeli massacre in Jenin on the West Bank.  Subsequent information revealed that there was no massacre, that almost as many Israelis died as Arabs, that the Palestinian staged the removal of bodies (one video shot unbeknownst to the Palestinians, showed a supposed corpse falling of a stretcher and getting back on), and that almost all of the dead Palestinians were fighters.  Photographs, mostly taken close in, of Jenin purported to show extensive damage from the battle.  Wider views, published in the Chicago Sun-Times and elsewhere established that the area of destruction covered only a small portion of the city.

That is, the real issue is not Hajj.  He is a free-lance photographer who has been sacked.  No news agency can use any pictures by him without their veracity being called into question.  The damage he can do has been done.  But what of Reuters itself?  If the fraud was apparent to bloggers, why did Reuters allow it to run uncritically?   Pro-Israeli activists have long accused Reuters of slanting its Middle East news in an anti-Israeli fashion.  With all of its resources—not to mention the standards of good journalism it is supposed to follow—the fact that it ran the picture shows, at best, neglect; at worse, a serious breach of ethics.

As one blogger wrote before Reuters acted, “Even I can see the very suspicious ‘clonings’ of picture elements here. And I'm an idiot.”

While the news agency did indeed remove the offending photograph from its web site and fired the fraudulent photographer who submitted it, there is no indication that it is planning to review its policies or practice in light of the event.  Nor is there any move underway for Reuters to examine any other photographs of Hajj’s that they have used. 

Posted on 11 Aug 2006 by root
 
 
 
 
 


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