Globe Website Photos Distort Reality
March 27, 2007
Dear HonestReporting Canada subscriber:
Any serious attempt to promote fair and accurate news coverage of the Middle East must contend with the overwhelming impact of news images transmitted by services like Reuters and Associated Press. Hundreds of dramatic daily news photos exert a powerful influence on the world’s attitudes about the Arab-Israeli conflict. But with brief captions incapable of conveying much context and an emphasis on interpersonal conflict, news images are a major source of distortion. Photojournalists looking for scenes of violence between Israelis and Palestinians may describe their photograph in a one or two-sentence caption, but they rarely provide enough context for the casual viewer to understand what it’s all about.
So editors who select newswire photos for their newspapers have to handle them with care. As the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states, photos should not “oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.”
In November 2005, HonestReporting Canada complained about an enormous photo and caption that appeared in the Globe and Mail without proper context. We pointed out that photos should carry enough context to inform and not mislead, and a senior Globe editor acknowledged that the photo lacked sufficient context and required a lengthier caption. The editor assured us that the Globe would review its internal procedures on the use of stand-alone photographs from then on. (Read more about this episode here.)
While the print version of the Globe and Mail adhered to this commitment, the same cannot be said of the newspaper’s website. In recent months, the Globe’s website has published several wire service images in a way that stripped the photos of context or altered their meaning. In the example below from February 15, the Globe website presented the first image with its caption cut short, thus removing any context about why a Palestinian’s home was demolished. Only after HonestReporting Canada complained did the Globe restore the caption, explaining that the house had been built illegally (click either image to enlarge):
In a recent telephone conversation, a Globe editor assured HonestReporting Canada that the problem of abbreviated captions had been addressed. So it was all the more surprising when on March 21, the Globe and Mail website carried a disturbing image of a dog apparently attacking a woman. The Globe’s caption read:
“An Israeli army dog attacks a Palestinian woman during an army raid in the West bank village of Obadiyah, near Bethlehem.”
However the original AP image, by photojournalist Kevin Frayer, carried a longer, more informative caption:
An Israeli army dog attacks a Palestinian woman during an army raid in the West Bank village of Obadiyah, near Bethlehem, Wednesday, March 21, 2007. The dog, which was supposed to enter a house with troops searching for a wanted militant attacked the female bystander instead. The woman received medical attention from the troops on the scene. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Compare both versions below (click
on either image to enlarge):
In contrast to the Globe, both the Toronto Sun and the Hamilton Spectator used portions of the remaining caption when publishing the same image. The Sun (see image) indicated that the woman received medical attention from Israeli troops; the Spectator (see image) indicated that the dog was supposed to look for a “wanted militant” but attacked the woman instead.
So why did the Globe, a national newspaper, cut the caption down to one sentence and present the image in the most distorted possible way?
Continued Portrayal of “Pseudo-Events”
The above is not all that’s wrong with the Globe’s use of newswire images.
The late author and historian Daniel J. Boorstin coined the term “pseudo-event” to describe an event or activity that exists for the sole purpose of garnering media publicity. This term accurately describes the weekly ritual in which Palestinians and their supporters provoke Israeli soldiers into a confrontation at the site of the security barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin. Every Friday, photojournalists record the ensuing confrontation. The images are then sent worldwide via newswire services, appearing shortly afterward in newspapers around the world. As far back as November 2005, HonestReporting Canada criticized the media for using these images of events staged specifically for the media’s benefit. (Read more about this here.)
In recent weeks, the Globe and Mail website has started using these images on a regular basis. (None of these images explains that Israel maintains a security barrier to prevent acts of terror.) The following images appeared on the Globe website on four out of the six Fridays from February 2 to March 9 (click any image to enlarge):
March 9, 2007
March 2, 2007
February 23, 2007
Photo (Sebastian Scheiner / AP): “A
Palestinian demonstrator argues with an Israeli soldier at the village of
Bilin, near the West Bank town of Ramallah.
February 2, 2007
How You Can Make A Difference
Why has the Globe website started removing the context from news images and repeatedly using images of “pseudo-events”? Concerned Canadians can contact the Globe, ask why the website is using pictures that are out of context or staged, and ask what specific steps the Globe will take to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
To contact Globe and Mail Reader Response Editor Kathy English, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.