October 2, 2012
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are an international news agency photographer at the United Nations General Assembly.
The Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is giving his speech. You take a bunch of photos. Flicking through them you see that in one he is making an arm gesture which in any educated persons mind will immediately conjure images of the Nazi salute.
Do you A:
-Give a knowing smile at how out of context and offensive it would be seen to be in some quarters, given the Nazi/Holocaust/Jewish connection, and so put in the folder with all the others that didn’t make the cut.
-Send it to your picture desk.
Let’s pretend that you are the picture editor at an international news agency and one of your photographers sends in a bunch of photos of Netanyahu giving what looks at first glance like a Nazi salute. You know he wasn’t, you even know that the real salute uses the right arm, not the left.
If you know anything about international relations Jewish sensibilities, history, you know that this photo is at best ‘controversial’ and utterly out of context.
You also know that the story of the Netanyahu speech is 100% him holding up an Acme style cartoon bomb and drawing a red line on it. That’s the story.
So, do you A:
-Put it in the folder with the others you have rejected?
-Send it out to your thousands of clients along with the cartoon shots?
Now let us pretend you’re running a newspaper, or an online news service. You are covering the story of the Prime Minister’s cartoon moment, and this photo comes across your desktop.
Do you A:
-Publish the cartoon photo which has also come in?
-Publish the ‘Nazi’ salute photo alongside the text you’ve written which is all about the cartoon but make no reference to the image.
Last week, for many people, the answer was – B.
At this point some readers may say ‘Well, he is a Nazi’. This schoolboy reductionist position would betray a willingness to equate the situation in Israel/Palestine with the orders to turn people into soap.
It would fail to recognise that for all Israel’s negative points, it has a thriving Arabic media, Arab parliamentarians, and Arab judges. It would, in short, reveal a mind either empty of context, or full of bile.
Reuters and AP both put the image out. It went viral. I asked Reuters why, and received the answer “We’ll get back to you”. That was on Friday. They haven’t got back to me. AP said the photos were “among a wide variety of Prime Minister Netanyahu during his speech”.
This fails to take into account the imagery and its historical context. The point here is not that the media shouldn’t publish photos of people making gestures with their arms, it’s that in this case the choices made fail to take into account the clear imagery and historical context.
And if the unfortunate image had been of Obama, or Morsi, or…Merkel? Would the right answer have been A?