Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Doctored Dilemma

It's no secret that Adnan Hajj has become one of the most searched-for terms on the web as of late. After the Lebanese photographer manipulated, er, poorly photoshopped, an image of a burning Beirut, he's become the latest example of the hotbed topic of photo alteration ethics. Not to discount this editorial debate - an absolutely essential one to have at every news meeting, so veteran New York Daily News photographer David Handschuh tells me (and I agree) - but there's something equally as big at stake in this debate:

Hajj's actions are a blow to the balance of a growing global industry.

It was bloggers who first cried out about Hajj's alteration, Reuters itself not discovering the error until the photo's release on the wire. With such a grave mistake made, who will be responsible for bringing us the news, uncompromised? In an ideal world, readers should be able to trust professionals to give the relevant facts of a story, be it letters or pixels. But Hajj's digressions give pause - must we rely on nations not involved (or vested) in a conflict for
accurate news? In that case, the home countries would be eliminated for bias, Americans would be out for fear of showing too many pro-Israeli images, and so on.

Certainly, this is not a solution. Shipping over foreign news correspondents will not bring the comprehensive news coverage by natives of an area. And yet, can we trust a Lebanese photographer? Is he Sunni, Shi'a, or Christian? Should it matter?

I certainly don't think so. But worse than the loss of a Reuters job and equal to a fear of photographic inaccuracy is the doubt that readers could harbor against journalists from another country.

I invite you to express your opinions on the following question: To what length is photo manipulation acceptable?

UPDATE 8/9/06: It appears that a New York Times photographer was fired as well for similar reasons. Will this become a witch hunt for photographers, or just a unified standard of editing?

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