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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Doctored Photo from Beirut Calls into Question Neutrality of Reuters; Don’t Blame Digital Photograph; Film Can Be Altered, Too

Posted by kinchendavid on August 8, 2006

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Hinton, WV  – My first reaction on learning of the photograph that the British news service Reuters pulled because it was “digitally altered” was to blame digital photography. Then I remembered my days at a newspaper where we copy editors routinely scanned film negatives to create a digital image that could be imported into a page. A film image from a Nikon or Canon film camera becomes a digital image that can be PhotoShopped at will.

According to an Aug. 7, 2006 story by Eliana Johnson in the New York Sun:

“Reuters withdrew a photograph of Beirut after an Israeli air attack on the city yesterday, saying it was digitally altered by one of its freelance photographers. Buildings were cloned, and smoke was distorted in order to create the appearance of darker smoke than was actually present. The caption on the manipulated photo read, ‘Smoke billows from burning buildings destroyed during an overnight Israeli air raid on Beirut’s suburbs.’”

NY Sun: ”The existence of the doctored image was first reported by the proprietor of the Little Green Footballs Weblog, Charles Johnson. On Saturday (Aug. 5, 2006) Mr. Johnson, a full-time Web designer, wrote that the photograph exhibited “blatant evidence of manipulation.” He cited the “repeating patterns in the smoke,” which he said were “almost certainly caused by using the Photoshop ‘clone’ tool to add more smoke to the image.”

Johnson of Little Green Footballs – an L.A.-based site I recommend, by the way, to counteract the inaccuracies of Mainstream Media — also called attention to the “cloned buildings” in the photograph and concluded that the photograph was manipulated. “It’s so incredibly obvious … there’s really no question about it,” Mr. Johnson said.

NY Sun: “The news wire immediately withdrew the photograph. In a statement accompanying its ‘picture kill,’ Reuters said, “Photo editing software was improperly used on this image.” It issued a corrected version.”

The whole ugly mess signals to me that the once proud Reuters, founded by a German Jew in the middle of the 19th Century, has a distinctly pro-Arab bias. I may be wrong, but the photographer who supplied the picture is an Arab, Adnan Hajj, who has worked for Reuters on a freelance basis since 1993. Hajj “denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the image, saying he was trying to remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under,” Reuters said.

Yeah, sure!

Reuters has suspended the offending photographer pending an internal inquiry and won’t be accepting or using pictures taken by Hajj, Reuters said. “This represents a serious breach of Reuters standards, and we shall not be accepting or using pictures taken by him,” Reuters said.

According to the NY Sun: Hajj, whose war photographs continue to be displayed on the Reuters Web site, supplied a number of contentious pictures from the Israeli raid on the city of Qana, including an image in which a rescue worker is seen carrying a dead child. Bloggers, including Mr. Johnson, called the time stamp on that photograph and others into question.

Nonetheless, Reuters’s head of public relations, Moira Whittle, said that Reuters’s investigation will be confined to the single Beirut photograph.

Here’s an entry on http://www.littlegreenfootballs.com that points out further Reuters bias:

“A few hours after a Franco-American draft for a UN Security Council resolution was released, pro-Hezbollah lobbies and allies launched a campaign to hijack the response of Lebanon to the United Nations. As noted by seasoned observers the campaign started at the top with an alert release by News Agency Reuters written by Lin Noueihed. The article, put out early Sunday has reached the four corners of the Globe and its title has framed the position of the Lebanese people in a “no” to the UN expected resolution. Amazingly enough, Lin Noueihid titles her release “Lebanon rejects draft UN resolution.” But when you read the release you realize that the “representative” of all of Lebanon in the eyes of the Reuters reporter is no one other than pro-Syrian, Hezbollah ally, Nabih Berri, the leader of Shiite Movement Amal.

“Noueihid wrote that “Lebanon rejects a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to end 26 days of fighting because it would allow Israeli forces to remain on Lebanese soil, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said on Sunday.”

Basing her entire report on one of the most powerful supporters of the Syrian occupation and who heads a militia allied to Hezbollah, Noueihid gives Berri the full power of the credibility of Reuters. This title will find itself printed from Yahoo to the last local newsletter in the Fidji islands. Evidently, local editors around the world trust Reuters as they trust the Red Cross, and will conclude that indeed “Lebanon” has rejected a UN resolution, while in reality, it is Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis that rejected it, and unfortunately a Reuters writer framed it otherwise. …

“Commenting from Beirut, Human Rights activist and Cedars Revolution Human Rights officer Kamal Batal said the “Reuters framing of Lebanon’s answer to the UN is a hijacking of the opinions of millions of Lebanese. The popular majority in Lebanon wants to end the War now and the disbanding of all militias,” he said. Analyzing Reuters’ release closely George Chaya, Director for the Lebanese Information Office for Latin America in Buenos Aires said “it is not really a coincidence that Lin Nouaihid twisted realities and induced millions of readers around the world into error in perception. From a thorough review of Nouaihid’s previous campaigns through Reuters and other media, you can easily see her framings in the Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Koran affairs in addition to her postings on radical web sites.

Nouaihid has all the freedom to express her ideological positions but Reuters credibility as a fair and professional news agency are now damaged.”

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the history of Reuters: “In the 1840s, the latest technology was the electric telegraph and Paul Julius Reuter, a German-Jew, saw that news need no longer take days or weeks to travel from one country to another. In 1850, the 34-year-old Reuter was based in Aachen on the border of Germany and Belgium and began to use the newly opened Berlin-Aachen telegraph to send news back to Berlin. But there was a 76-mile gap in the telegraph between Aachen and Brussels. Reuter spotted the opportunity to speed up news between Brussels and Berlin by using carrier pigeons to bridge the gap in the telegraph.

“In 1851, Reuter moved to London as attempts to lay a submarine telegraph cable from Dover to Calais looked like succeeding, after failures in 1847 and 1850. He set up his “Submarine Telegraph” office in October 1851 just before the opening of the cable in November, and agreed a contract with the London Stock Exchange to provide stock prices from the continental exchanges in return for access to the London prices, which he supplied to Paris brokers.

“In 1865, Reuter’s private firm was restructured and became a limited company called Reuter’s Telegram Company.

“Reuter’s agency built a reputation in Europe for being the first to report scoops from abroad, like the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Today, almost every major news outlet in the world subscribes to Reuters. It operates in 200 cities in 94 countries, supplying text in 19 languages.

“Reuters was floated as a public company in 1984 on the London Stock Exchange and on NASDAQ in the US. However, there were concerns that the company’s tradition for objective reporting might be jeopardised if control of the company later fell into the hands of a single shareholder. To counter this possibility, the constitution of the company at the time of flotation included a rule that no individual was allowed to hold more than 15% of the company. If this limit is exceeded the directors can order the shareholder to reduce the holding to less than 15%. This rule was applied in the late 1980s when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which already held around 15% of Reuters, bought an Australian news company which also had a holding in Reuters. The acquisition meant that Murdoch then held more than 15% and he was obliged to reduce the holding to less than 15% in line with the rules.

“At the same time, as a further measure to protect the independence of Reuters news reporting, The Reuters Founders Share Company was set up. This is a company whose sole task is to protect the integrity of the company’s news output. It holds one “Founders Share” which can outvote all other shares in the event that an attempt is made to alter any of the rules relating to the Reuters Trust Principles. These principles set out the company’s aim to preserve its independence, integrity and freedom from bias in its news reporting .

“Reuters began to grow rapidly in the 1980s, widening the range of its business products and expanding its global reporting network for media, financial and economic services. Recent key product launches include Equities 2000 (1987), Dealing 2000-2 (1992), Business Briefing (1994), Reuters Television for the financial markets (1994), 3000 Series (1996) and the Reuters 3000 Xtra service (1999).”

Is Reuters biased against Israel? I don’t know, but this latest example shows that measures are needed to ensure that rogue photographers and reporters aren’t besmirching the reputation of the news service. British reporters in general seem to be harsher on Israel than on Hezbollah in the current war, in my opinion. Perhaps this reflects the European demonization of a tiny country that they want to make into a pariah state.

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