Photographic imagery can be more influential than headlines or the text of a news article. An inaccurate caption, a narrow camera angle, a staged scene, or, at worst, the manipulation of photos using computer software, can have a huge bearing on a story.
That’s why it’s particularly important to monitor how the mainstream media (MSM) uses photos to illustrate news stories. When an innapropriate photo is used, media outlets must take responsibility for their choices and make the necessary changes. Sky News’ recent use of a file photo to distort a story about Israel serves as a case in point.
The photo first appeared on Aug. 3 when Sky News reported on Fatah-affiliated Palestinians fleeing Hamas forces in Gaza. Israel allowed more than 180 Palestinians through a border crossing while under fire from Hamas gunmen. Wounded Palestinians were treated in Israeli hospitals and many lives were undoubtedly saved even though Israel was under no obligation to intervene in the intra-Palestinian political and clan violence.
Sky News used the image below to illustrate the story, capturing the IDF’s necessary security measures as the Fatah men crossed into Israeli territory having been armed only moments before. Sky’s caption reads: “Palestinians blindfolded and stripped stand in an Israeli military base.”
The photo does not reflect the true nature of the story – Israel’s willingness to rescue Palestinians from Hamas – but at least it does reflect one aspect of the story and was taken at the scene of the incident.
Unfortunately, after publication, the image appears to have been saved as a file photo for future use. And it reappeared again on Sept. 4 accompanying a Sky News report on protests in the Palestinian village of Naalin against the Israeli security barrier.
The photo not only bears no direct relation to the article but was actually taken a month earlier to illustrate a totally unconnected story.
When informed, Sky News, to its credit, immediately removed it. HonestReporting was able to save a copy of the original, which can be viewed here.
It was only the sharp eye of an actual photographer who alerted us to this case. With so many file photos available to use, it is almost impossible to track what is an accurate image and what may be used to “spice up” an article or simply conform to the existing prejudices of a photo editor at a newspaper or website.
The speedy removal of the offending photo is evidence that media outlets can be held accountable for such errors and we have no reason to believe that there was malicious intent on the part of Sky News. It is unfortunate, however, that such imagery is seemingly the default perception of Israel and its military’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Please e-mail us in the future if you positively identify examples of misused images.
GUARDIAN FINALLY ISSUES CORRECTION
HonestReporting repeatedly encouraged subscribers to write to The Guardian to issue a correction to its obituary for Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Nearly a month later, a correction has finally been published:
Israeli Arabs lived under military rule from 1948 to 1966, not until 1986 as we said in the obituary of Mahmoud Darwish (page 30, August 11).
While this example may not appear to be a big development, it is important as a matter of principle that media outlets issue corrections after publishing factual errors. In this case, your e-mails to The Guardian have achieved this goal.