Blurring the line between fact and fiction

The Citizen newspaper has come under fire after it emerged that the newspaper doctored an image displayed on the front page of its Wednesday edition.

The image in question, which was supplied by Agence France-Presse, shows the burnt out husk of the minibus destroyed in a suicide bomb attack that killed eight South Africans in Kabul this week.

The original image shows the bodies of two men lying among the wreckage. But the image on the cover of the Citizen on Wednesday did not show any bodies. These had been cloned out using editing software. When the alteration to the image was noticed, a furious debate broke out on Twitter concerning the ethics of such photo manipulation.

Freelance journalist Julian Rademeyer tweeted: "Scandalous decision by the Citizen yesterday to digitally manipulate its front page Kabul pic & clone out bodies."

Eyewitness News reporter Barry Bateman tweeted: "This is fraud – edited as if bodies [were] never there."

Photojournalist Craig Nieuwenhuizen tweeted: "I think its just sad cause now people will wonder if any of [the] staff pics are manipulated."

Others questioned whether race was a factor in the decision to obscure the bodies of the men killed in Kabul, when those killed at Marikana were displayed.

Journalist Michelle Solomon tweeted: "Why show bodies of Marikana miners then aggressively edit out these bodies?"

"Are the bodies of white people more sacred than the bodies of poor black miners? This pic is just as gory as Marikana pics," she later added.

Ethical breach
Major newspapers often have very strict guidelines concerning the use of images. The New York Times, for example, states that images that depict reality must be "genuine in every way" and that "no people or objects may be added, rearranged, reversed, distorted or removed from a scene [except for the recognised practice of cropping to omit extraneous outer portions]."

The South African Press Code states that "pictures shall not misrepresent or mislead nor be manipulated to do so".

Dangerous ground
Wits University journalism professor Anton Harber, meanwhile, said the manipulation of news pictures is dangerous ground.

"The Citizen's motivation may be good, but they have pursued it unethically. If the body was not acceptable to their audience — and one has to ask why others have been judged more acceptable — they should have used another picture, or cropped it, or moved it inside the paper and carried it with a warning, or at the very least have told readers that they had manipulated the picture," he said

Harber, who questioned whether the paper had gotten permission from the news agency and photographer to manipulate the image, said that the editing of the image was a bad precedent, which was open to abuse.

The Citizen explains
Shortly afterwards, the National Press Club called on The Citizen to explain itself.

The Citizen responded by releasing a statement saying that it regretted having cloned out the image and that steps would be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.

"A decision had been made during an editorial conference to run the picture but to blur out the bodies, as was done during television broadcasts of the aftermath of the attack. This directive was not carried out. Instead the bodies were digitally cloned out of the photo," it explained.

The Citizen's editor Martin Williams said the photo should never have been published in the form that it was.

"Due to the much more graphic nature of the Kabul blast photo, we felt that blurring the bodies was appropriate. Removing them completely is, however, completely inexcusable and we readily admit that this never should have happened," he said.

Williams said that the photos of those killed at Marikana had not been blocked out because it was not as graphic as the Kabul image.

"Credibility is shot"
A staffer at The Citizen, who asked not to be named, told the Mail & Guardian it was unclear how the photo came to be edited in the way that it was.

However, this was "irrelevant", he said, as the image would still had to have been "okayed" by senior staff.

"It’s a basic, fundamental journalistic ethic that’s been so badly broken and now they want to blame it on a misunderstanding." The staff member said the photographic department in particular has taken exception to the incident.

"The photographic department is feeling that their credibility is shot," he said.


We must take stock of our schools’ sins

Ignore the language used in brochures and on open days and be vigilant about the details

Study unpacks the ‘hidden racism’ at Stellenbosch

Students say they feel unseen and unheard at the university because of their skin colour

‘Judge President Hlophe tried to influence allocation of judges to...

Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath accuses Hlophe of attempting to influence her to allocate the case to judges he perceived as ‘favourably disposed’ to former president Jacob Zuma

SAA grounds flights due to low demand

SAA is working to accommodate customers on its sister airlines after it cancelled flights due to low demand

Press Releases

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.

KZN teacher educators jet off to Columbia University

A group of academics were selected as participants of the programme focused on PhD completion, mobility, supervision capacity development and the generation of high-impact research.

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.