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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Reutersgate: Photography and Photoshoppy

If a top blogger did this, the mainstream media would do its bit of self-important moralising, but it's a mainstream news source that has been caught out, so we'll do the tut-tutting, ok? The web is abuzz with talk of a Reuters photographer, Adnan Hajj, getting caught manipulating pictures in Photoshop. Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, one of the bloggers who exposed Rathergate, was the man who uncovered the fraud.

Reuters has reacted appropriately to the criticism, firing Hajj and withdrawing all previous photographs by him. For more on the subject, do read Jeff Harrell's excellent analysis of the photoshopping by Hajj, and Richard North's account of a previous hoax pulled by the same chappie. (Most of these links are via Sriram, who has many more useful links in his post.)

I wouldn't hold it against Reuters too much: they did sack the guy and remove all his pictures, and in every large organisation there are likely to be a few bad apples. What is critical is that the company in question takes a zero-tolerance policy towards offenders, and has an internal mechanism in place to prevent such behaviour. Reuters seems to score on the first account, and are reportedly putting systems in place to make sure pictures are more thoroughly vetted before they get through.

One of the reasons that this episode happened is that American and British news organisations often have laxer rules for stringers -- especially those in war zones, from where reporting is at a premium -- than for inhouse staffers. I'm quite sure Reuters' staff photographers must be pretty pissed at this, and that none of them would ever attempt such a stunt. Reuters will, no doubt, scrutinise content from stringers and freelancers more carefully after this, though had the photoshopping been skillful, it could have been impossible to detect, regardless of internal processes. Now, that's worrying.

So what do I feel about photoshopping? you ask. Is it ethical? Well, in my view, using Photoshop for journalistic pictures is okay only as long as you don't distort the truth of the photograph. Cropping a picture for publication purposes or sharpening it is fine, and maybe brightening or darkening it, as long as it doesn't misrepresent what is in the picture. But adding or removing any element is simply not on. It's cheating. And it's clear from the photographs that Hajj cheated egregiously. Staging pictures is even worse, of course. (For more from a professional who freelances for AP, click here.)

And now, after all that, some comic relief.
amit varma, 11:57 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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