“Digital photography has transformed photojournalism more than ever before”

Once again manipulated and staged photos from Lebanon were discovered by news agencies

Just recently, the Reuters news agency ended its cooperation with photographer Adnan Hajj, who had manipulated photos from Lebanon (The Truth of Digital Images). Pro-Israeli bloggers had first discovered the poorly done manipulation of a photo showing the aftermath of a bombing of Beirut. In the process, the distrust of the images of the bombing in Cana has again been reinforced (Israeli bombs on Cana: massacre or Hisbollywood?), especially after a Lebanese rescue worker kept showing up wearing a green helmet (who, in a later picture, is now wearing a white helmet). Now other bloggers have again found doctored photos from Lebanon, taken by the AP and Reuters news agencies, and want to demonstrate that the media is allegedly biased against Israel and that the pro-Arab side systematically misrepresents images (Hizbollywood).

The AP photography from 5. August

The author of the blog Drinking from Home stumbled across two photographs in which the same woman is obviously lamenting the destruction of her home. Am 22. On July 5, a Lebanese woman laments the destruction of her house in southern Beirut in a photo taken by REUTERS/Issam Kobeisi. August, in a photo by AP Photo/Hussein Malla, you can most likely see the same woman who is now lamenting the destruction of her home in a suburb of Beirut. Possibly there is another photo of this woman – cynically called the "most unfortunate homeowner of Beirut" – in which the same woman once again appears on 1. August appearance. Another blogger tries to substantiate the suspicion that Issam Kobeisi, of whom Reuters continues to circulate photos, could be identical to the released Adnan Hajj. At least the same photograph was published by Reuters under the two names, moreover, one finds on these photos probably again the same woman, who had been seen on the 23rd of March. July after an Israeli bombing:

A Lebanese woman cries as she carries belongings from her home which was hit by an Israeli air strike in south Beirut July 23, 2006. REUTERS/Adnan Hajj

A Lebanese woman cries as she carries belongings she founded in the wreckage of her home that was targeted by the Israeli air strikes, in southern Beirut July 23, 2006. REUTERS/Issam Kobeisi

The Reuters photograph of 22. July

"Either this woman is the most unfortunate owner of an apartment building in Beirut or something is wrong," comments the blogger. To the point, however it may be interpreted politically, is the fact once again that photos are supposed to serve as evidence for facts, the media are dependent on pictures, and the mostly freelance photographers have to deliver the most impressive ones possible in order to serve the greed of the media and to generate income. In addition, photographers want to convey a message, but it can be quite one-sided. In both cases it is a question of Arab photographers, who could be suspected of partisanship, without the need to ame systematic manipulation of a system (Hizbollawood).

In conflicts such as the Middle East, which are highly charged in terms of global politics, it is tempting for everyone involved, from photographers to editors, to not only make questionable image choices but also to (re)stage incidents for a variety of reasons (commercial, attention-grabbing, aesthetic, moral, ideological, or political). Sometimes, as we know, reporters pay people to re-enact scenes or to perform them more dramatically. In doing so, they undermine the credibility of the images and their profession, but also that of the media as a whole. In this respect, it is a gross merit of the even though biased bloggers to expose the manipulations and practices in the media, even if this occasionally becomes unsavory and at least as cynical in dealing with the suffering of others.

Photo no. 2 from the New York Times photo essay by Tyler Hicks with the helper

The New York Times has now also been hit for staged photographs. In a photo essay "Attack in Tyre" by Tyler Hicks/New York Times (27. July), as suggested by the blog Gatewaypundit, there is probably a staging involved. In picture 2 you can see a young man with a muzzle and a naked upper body pointing with his finger at something during the salvage work in the trumpets. In picture 6 is with rough probability the same young man, who is rescued by a helper from the trummern and appears dead.

Photo no. 6 by Tyler Hicks with the caption, "The mayor of Tyre said that in the worst hit areas, bodies were still buried under the rubble, and he appealed to the Israelis to allow government authorities time to pull them out. (Photo Tyler Hicks The New York Times)"

The blogger was struck by the fact that the young man’s body was unharmed and not covered in dust, as would be expected when a person is recovered from tumbleweeds. He also seems to be holding the cap in his arm. His attitude actually seems very draped.

In the meantime, the New York Times has corrected the caption, but this also shows that the criticism was justified.

"A picture caption with an audio slide show on July 27 about an Israeli attack on a building in Tyre, Lebanon, imprecisely described the situation in the picture. The man pictured, who had been seen in previous images appearing to assist with the rescue effort, was injured during that rescue effort, not during the initial attack, and was not killed. The correct description was this one, which appeared with that picture in the printed edition of The Times: After an Israeli airstrike destroyed a building in Tyre, Lebanon, yesterday, one man helped another who had fallen and was hurt.”

Unsinnig sind freilich die hier wie anderen Orts uber die Nachweise von Manipulationen und Inszenierungen hinausgehenden Unterstellungen der meist pro-israelischen Blogger, die damit die Massivitat der Angriffe und vor allem die Zahl der Opfer sowie die Schwere der Schaden herunterspielen wollen. Sie haben kein wirkliches Interesse an Aufklarung, sondern betreiben Gegenpropaganda, verkleidet als Aufklarung.

Of course, the manipulations and stagings, but also the skewed selection of images in the media in a conflict are in turn taken up by the media, which in turn want to make politics with the one-sidedness, while the side disadvantaged in the media war tends to keep quiet about it. As Reuters ares, the alteration of photographs is absolutely forbidden, however, digital photographs were certainly reworked with Photoshop, for example, to increase the contrast or to remove dust. But the temptation is always there, with the technical possibilities, to rework the photographs even more:

The tools we use in Photoshop are levels, curves and saturation for changing contrasts; and, color balance to bring the image back to the way the natural eye would see the color…Photoshop is a highly sophisticated image manipulation program. We use only a tiny part of its potential capability to format our pictures, crop and size them and balance the tone and color. For us it is a presentational tool. The rules are – no additions or deletions, no misleading the viewer by manipulation of the tonal and color balance to disguise elements of an image or to change the context.

Photoshop is a powerful image processing program with many more tools to help photographers produce the best quality image they can for the type of photography they do. There is not a Photoshop program for use by news photographers and another for advertising, where image-changing is tolerated. What we in the news photo community need to regulate is what tools are used for photojournalism and what are not.

Gary Hershorn, a photo editor for Reuters

BBC also reacted in a statement to the image manipulations and raised the question of the trustworthiness of photos in the media. Photo editor Phil Coomes says that BBC works with a number of rough news agencies that can be relied on because they also rely on staff photographers who work with freelancers and send their photos to the agencies. However, as the Reuters case has shown, this does not seem to work very well. BBC has been receiving about 5.000 photographs received. Before publication, they were examined to see if they had been processed. But this did not work either, even if BBC was not affected by it. Moreover, today, especially in conflict zones such as the Middle East, many events are documented not only by one photographer, but by several. From the comparison one could draw good conclusions about the veracity of the images, which, however, are not only taken by the photographers, but also edited, subtitled and sent out. Coomes also makes it clear that the boundaries of image editing in the age of digital photography are blurred:

Digital photography has altered the landscape of photojournalism like nothing before it, placing the photographers in total control of their output. All the news agencies have photo ethics policies, many of which are rooted in the days of film. The standard line is that photographers are allowed to use photo manipulation to reproduce that which they could do in the darkroom with conventional film. This usually means, color balance, ‘dodging and burning’, cropping, touching up any marks from dust on the sensor and perhaps a little sharpening. If we are honest though, an accomplished darkroom technician could do almost anything and there are many historical examples of people being airbrushed from pictures.

After the statement, however, the case of the AP photos came up, one of which had also been published on the BBC website. It is not possible to say whether the different photographs were taken in the same place and at the same time. After receiving a number of emails from readers on the subject, the photograph was replaced. In earlier times, this would probably have happened quietly. But now a screenshot was already circulating. However, the incident was mentioned by BBC only in the update of the statement, but not at the point where the image was replaced.