Getty Images Awards Photo Bias

[** Getty Images’ Director of Corporate Communications responded to this critique — view the response here.]Kai Wiedenhoefer (at right), a German photographer with a decidedly anti-Israel lens, has become a darling of the international photojournalist community, winning two prestigious international awards in the past year.

In December 2004, HonestReporting noted that the coveted World Press Photo award was granted to Wiedenhofer for his negative portrayal of Israel’s West Bank security fence.

Wiedenhofer’s photos continue to be inaccurately captioned on the World Press Photo site. While some of his shots were taken on the longstanding southern Gaza border with Egypt, WPP’s caption implies they are all from Israel’s newly-constructed, controversial West Bank barrier. For example:

Now, the highly influential Getty Images has presented Wiedenhofer a $20,000 grant for his series ‘Sharon’s Wall: Holy Land, Divided Land’. The Getty Images press release on the grant describes Israel’s separation fence as a monstrous barrier to peace, akin to the Berlin Wall:

The remaining part of the Berlin Wall which stands today serves as a constant reminder of the political conflict that separated Germany for more than 25 years. A message scribed in graffiti on the wall reads, “Wall of shame stands now in Israel.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a focal point of the crisis between the West and Islam. The Israeli government?s solution to this unrest is to build a wall that is much bigger than the one in BerlinWith the benefit of the Getty Images grant, Wiedenhoefer will document the construction of the wall, along with the related repercussions which could intensify the tensions between the two peoples. Having worked in the region extensively for more than a decade, his experience and intimate knowledge will enable him to depict that walls cannot be a solution to political problems, as we have seen in German history.


1) Getty Images, the leading source of news photography for international news outlets, defines its editorial policy in this manner:

We believe that photographs are the visual communication of a story and should be held to an equal level of accountability, responsibility and integrity as the written word in journalism. Images illustrate and reflect the events of our world today and therefore have a responsibility to be delivered to the customer with accuracy and impartiality.

In apparent violation of this policy, the Getty Images press release ? lifted, by GI’s own admission to HR editors, directly from Wiedenhoefer’s grant application ? clearly indicates a partisan stance against Israel on this high profile news topic.

Moreover, Wiedenhoefer’s work on Israel’s security fence lacks a key aspect of journalistic ‘responsibility and integrity’ ? balance and consideration for all parties relevant to the topic.

2) In his promotional material, Wiedenhofer openly acknowledges his biased agenda in photographing the conflict:

For more than ten years, from 1990 to 2001, Kai Wiedenhofer lived and photographed in the Israeli-occupied territories… It wasn’t long before the Palestinians called him Habib al-Schaab, friend of the people… Kai Wiedenhofer’s photographs live on his closeness toward the human beings depicted. They are telling about the everyday life of children, women and men, the victims and warriors of the Intifada, the dogged fight against the occupation.

Here’s a representative example of Wiedenhoefer’s bias ? one of his prize-winning photos on Israel’s West Bank barrier is from the town of Kalkilya, showing fenced-over drainage pipes:

Wiedenhofer’s caption on his own site merely laments the fact that the barrier ‘has turned [Kalkilya] into a ghetto.’

Yet this is the very site where, on June 17, 2003, Palestinian terrorists from Kalkilya used these same drainage pipes ? before they were covered ? to access the Israeli side, where they opened fire on the family car of 7-year-old Noam Leibowitz (at right), killing her instantly.

No indication whatsoever of this fact appears alongside Wiedenhoefer’s photo, or his entire portfolio on the Kalkilya barrier.

3) Neither Getty Images nor prize winner Wiedenhoefer acknowledges the fact that Israel’s barrier has dramatically lowered the number of terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians in the central and northern regions of Israel where it stands. Instead, Getty Images puts forth an entirely inappropriate comparison to the Berlin Wall, rehashing that old chestnut that ‘walls cannot be a solution to political problems’ as if it were empirical fact.

A reminder that more than 97% of the planned separation barrier is a chain-link fence, not a ‘wall’ at all. And regarding the Berlin Wall comparison, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign
makes the appropriate distinction:

The Berlin Wall was designed by the Communist regime of East Germany to solidify and perpetuate the division of the city by keeping the German citizens of “East Berlin” ? who sought only freedom and contacts with their German brethren in “West Berlin” ? locked in…

In stark contrast, Israel is building the anti-terrorist fence for only one purpose ? to keep Palestinian terrorists, who wish to murder and maim Israeli citizens, out. Israel, a democratic society, is building the fence to protect its citizens from deadly attack, not from peaceful contacts with the other side.

HonestReporting encourages subscribers to write to Getty Images, protesting its selection of Kai Wiedenhoefer for their prestigious award, and encouraging Getty Images to balance their selection with future consideration of photography that recognizes Israel’s defense against terrorism.

Comments to Getty Images’ Director of Editorial Photography, David Laidler:


Tuesday’s HonestReporting communique included a critique of a Knight Ridder dispatch that included this quotation from a Palestinian:

“I want to destroy everything here as they did the Al Aqsa mosque,” said Mahmoud Malahi. “It’s a symbol of occupation. Destroying it is a symbol of Islam.”

Knight Ridder has issued a ‘clarification’ and requested that its papers run a formal correction:

A Sept. 12 story on the Gaza Strip included a quote from a Palestinian demonstrator that wrongly equated the destruction of a former synagogue at Netzarim in the Gaza Strip to Israeli actions regarding the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The story should have clarified that the Israelis have not destroyed or vandalized the mosque.

But Knight Ridder’s Dion Nissenbaum, who authored the first erroneous article, includes another whopper of a Palestinian statement in a more recent article:

Israeli leaders denounced the [synagogue] attacks as barbaric, but Palestinian officials said Israel should have demolished the buildings as planned if it had wanted the former synagogues to receive special treatment.

‘Special treatment’ for demolished synagogues?! Now there’s a mission the PA police could accomplish!

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.