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Reuters Fires Freelance Photographer for Doctoring Images

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*August 11, 2006 – *This weekend, global news agency Reuters terminated its relationship with Lebanese freelancer Adnan Hajj after discovering the photographer altered an image of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. In a three-day period, Reuters received over 200 emails from readers, discovered the altered image, fired Hajj, conducted an in-depth investigation, and then issued an apology to its readers.

The photo in question was first released on Saturday by Reuters News Pictures and featured smoky buildings in Beirut after an Israeli air raid. Online bloggers criticized the photo, citing the smoke had been altered, quite poorly in fact, in Photoshop.

After re-evaluation of the photo, Reuters fired Hajj the next day when the news agency discovered the photographer had darkened and cloned the image smoke, according to a Reuters letter to its readers.

Reuters Original Photo

Reuters Manipulated Photo*

"There is no graver breach of Reuters standards for our photographers than the deliberate manipulation of an image," said Reuters Global Picture Editor Tom Szlukovenyi in the letter.

Hajj, in a BBC News article, denied allegations of doctoring this or any other images, stating that he was attempting to remove dust from the image. "There’s no problem with it, not at all," stated Hajj about a second photo in question.

On Monday, Reuters conducted a thorough investigation of Hajj’s photos since 1993 when he began freelancing for the news agency. The picture desk then uncovered a second image that was manipulated, an August 2nd image of an Israeli F-16 plan over Nabatiyeh, Lebanon with three flares, improperly labeled "missiles." In reality, Reuters stated in the letter, Hajj had multiplied the number of flares from one to three and presented them as missiles in the caption.

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Reuters pulled 920 of Hajj’s images from its archive. The fact that Hajj had manipulated two of his images meant none of his images could be trusted, according to Picture Editor Szlukovenyi.

Before last year’s cutbacks in the news agency, Reuters had multiple picture desks around the world with headquarters in Washington, London, and Hong Kong, according to the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). The downsizing caused the agency to reduce the number of regional picture desks to one main global desk based in Singapore. Photographers, regardless of where they are working, musts send their images the Singapore Picture Desk for editing and redistribution, according to the NPPA.

Hajj filed 43 photos from the Middle East directly with the Global Desk instead of filing through a Beirut editor, according to Reuters. The recent events brought to light possible breakdowns within the system. Reuters stated the agency will have a "tighter editing procedure," particularly with photos from the Middle East.

The Hajj photo follows other recent incidents of manipulated press photos in what the NPPA is calling the "summer of mistakes." Two weeks earlier, The Charlotte Observer published an image of a firefighter with an orange sky background that was discovered to be altered by photographer Patrick Schenider. Schenider then left the newspaper, according to the NPPA.

Spanish newspaper El Nuevo Herald also published an altered image that combined a freelancer photo with an AP photo to suggest Cuban police officers were ignoring prostitution. No editors or designers faced suspension for the image, according to the NPPA.

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