Reuters Focuses on Damage Control Amid Devastation in the Middle East

Reuters closed the final chapter on the Adnan Hajj affair this week by announcing staff and policy changes in the Middle East. Despite maintaining that it had found only two altered photographs after studying hundreds in its investigation, Reuters reported that the news agency has:

tightened editing procedures to ensure that only senior photo editors deal with sensitive images, invested in more training and supervision and strengthened its code of conduct for photographers…[and also named] Stephen Crisp the new chief photographer for the Middle East.

Reuters became the target of right-wing bloggers in August 2006 when it was shown that one of Hajj’s photos had been digitally altered to enhance the amount of smoke rising over Beirut after an Israeli air strike. This discovery led to a blogosphere hunt for other pics Photoshopped (presumably for political purposes) by Hajj and other photojournalists.

In all likelihood, the investigation and changes at Reuters were at least partially for PR purposes. Overall, Reuters has handled the controversy so as to appease conservative bloggers, and it has largely succeeded.

And yet, why should the tainted Reuters photos have set off such a blogstorm at all?

Did Reuters slip up and allow a photo to be published that it shouldn’t have? Absolutely. Should Hajj have been dismissed? Absolutely. Once again, bloggers have done something they do well; they’ve acted as a watchdog for the limitations of the mainstream media.

But if we step back from Hajj’s ethical lapses for a moment, and look at the motivations of the political bloggers who led the charge against Reuters, it raises broader questions. In a political context, for example, does it really matter:

1. Exactly how much smoke is coming from a bombed area? It’s still bombed.

2. Whether dead children are being photographed with actual rescue workers or a “Hezbollah set designer”? They’re still dead.

3. Whether a mannequin in the foreground of a photo of Qana was actually found standing up, or was picked up by the photographer?

The horrors of bad photojournalism, no matter how inexcusable, pale in comparison to the horrors of war. That fact can’t be changed by Photoshop, or by the cynical pundits who exploited the Hajj episode to numb their audiences to the terrible realities of Middle East conflict.

While Reuters may be finished with damage control, the real damage continues, unabated.

[tags]photojournalism, Reuters, Adnan Hajj, Scott Baradell[/tags]

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