A few months ago, top news agency Reuters was severely criticized for publishing digitally altered photos from Lebanon. The unfortunate incident is now better known as the “Adnan Hajj photographs controversy,” leaving a dark blemish in the use of digital photography for news reportage.
More than a week ago, Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger posted on their weblog the actions taken by the organization concerning the unacceptable oversight. Apparently, Adnan Hajj has been working with Reuters for more than 10 years on a freelance basis though relationship with the photographer was immediately cut after the alterations were discovered.
Photo operations supervision was transferred to Stephen Crisp, one its most senior editors, after the previous Middle-East editor was shown the door. They also convened their senior photographers to strengthen their guidelines and produce a code of conduct for photographers. By revising their picture editing process, the staff is now made to focus on quality guidelines while ensuring that controversial photographs are directly handled by senior editors.
Expectedly, listed in their guidelines concerning Photoshop and digital manipulation is that no part of an image should ever be deleted or added. Excessive darkening, lightening, and blurring are also not allowed, along with extreme color manipulation. This rules out the use of the Cloning, Healing or Brush Tools, along with Saturation and Auto Levels. Generally, only minimal changes are allowed, especially while in the field. Post-production work is recommended to be left to the discretion of the regional and global desks under editorial supervision.
Coming out with a reasonable set of digital editing guidelines, Reuters has shown its commitment to the responsible use of digital imaging. However, this does not solve the ethical issues in traditional photography, especially those concerning staged scenes and events. But by standardizing what is acceptable post-processing and what is not, they have at least given the industry a template from which other news organizations may evaluate truth and authenticity in a digitally-editable world.