Reuters admits doctoring Beirut photo

Picture of aftermath of IAF strike altered to display more smoke.

By
August 6, 2006 18:57
3 minute read.
doctored photo 88

doctored photo 88. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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In the most recent in a series of online controversies to take on the mainstream media, a series of Web sites discredited a Reuters photograph of the fighting in Lebanon, forcing the news agency to issue an apology and remove the image from their archives. The photograph by Adnan Hajj, which shows plumes of smoke rising from downtown Beirut after an IAF bombing, appeared to have been doctored to show more intense smoke and destruction over the city. The Reuters news agency issued a statement acknowledging that "photo editing software was improperly used on this image. A corrected version will immediately follow this advisory. We are sorry for any inconvenience." Reuters' head of PR Moira Whittle said that "Reuters has suspended a photographer until investigations are completed into changes made to a photograph showing smoke billowing from buildings following an air strike on Beirut. Reuters takes such matters extremely seriously as it is strictly against company editorial policy to alter pictures." "As soon as the allegation came to light, the photograph, filed on Saturday 5 August, was removed from the file and a replacement, showing the same scene, was sent," she added. "The explanation for the removal was the improper use of photo-editing software." Web logs, however, are claiming the incident as a victory for Web sites that have waged their own war against the mainstream media since the violence in the North began. "It's a sad day if these accusations are true," said Jason Fritz, a photographer who discussed the issue on SportsShooters.com, a site for professional photographers. "It is our job as journalists to bring these things up... Every morning, I pick up a copy of the LA Times, and see the outstanding work their photographers are doing on both sides of the border. It is obvious to me that there are moving pictures to be made there, if photographers would spend less time doctoring bad pictures in photo shop, and more time walking the streets of the cities of Lebanon." The US-based blog LittleGreenFootballs.com first wrote about the controversy and included a series of detailed animations drawing attention to doctored elements of the photograph. "This Reuters 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," wrote Charles Johnson a regular contributor to LittleGreenFootballs. Many have questioned how a photograph that appears so clearly doctored to so many non-professional photographers made it past the Reuters photo editor who oversaw the photographer's work. Others, however, pointed out that since the violence began, news agencies have had to increasingly rely on freelance photographers and writers to cover the breaking news events in the region. "Everyone is culpable if this photo wasn't vetted in camera-to-print process. Ultimately though, it rests on the photographer. Editors, while casting a suspicious eye, should not have to examine photos for forgeries and fakes for every image that comes into the system," wrote Fritz. While Hajj has been suspended, bloggers have demanded that Reuters evaluate past work that he has done for the agencies, which includes some of the more poignant images from the Kafr Kana incident. On the day that the IAF bombed Kana, images of lifeless babies and women began to flood the media, causing outrage over the attack that Lebanese police said killed nearly 60 civilians. Since then, an official report has revealed that 28 civilians died in the attack. Even on the day of the attack, bloggers began to question the photographs, drawing attention to a discrepancy in the time stamps that mark when a photographer shoots a photo. Although Web sites such as www.DrudgeReport.com and www.IsraelInsider.com have questioned whether those photos may have been manipulated or staged by photographers at the scene, no investigation has been launched.

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