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The Globe and Mail

From the public editor: How a not-so-current Honduras photo got used

Sylvia Stead is The Globe's first-ever public editor.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

On our inside back cover in the A Section of Thursday's Globe and Mail, we ran a disturbing article depicting the death of 350 prisoners killed in a fire in Honduras. It was accompanied by four photographs. Three images taken by Associated Press photographer Fernando Antonio show the strength and impact of photojournalism at its best. You are able to witness first-hand the chaos, the worry, live action, and the death and destruction from that horrible event. This is one of many stories in which the photographs are essential in understanding the news event.

Unfortunately through a mix-up in labelling of a file, another photograph from an earlier prison fire in Honduras was used in the package. Reuters, the wire service which provided the photo, caught its own error quickly and issued a disclaimer that the photo was not current. However, our newspaper pages had already gone to press and we were unable to switch it out for another current photo.



These minor mistakes happen at times, but it is an opportunity to explain how important we believe current, news photojournalism is to our readers' understanding of world events. Our policy states that news images are documentary images and must not be manipulated, combined or distorted. They cannot be staged or re-enacted. However, subjects in portrait, studio and fashion shoots may be directed and posed by photographers.

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Our Photo Editor Dennis Owen explains it this way: "A newspaper will sometimes use an image that illustrates an idea but is not specific to an event or person. The relationship between the image and the story should be obvious to the reader. Care needs to be taken that images depicting actual news events are not used to illustrate similar but different events, since the reader could draw an inaccurate conclusion."

That obviously didn't happen in this case. It was a simple case of a news photo being mis-labelled and the mistake not caught in time. But it does show that we take our responsibility for accuracy and fairness as seriously with our photojournalism as we do with our articles.

If you have any questions about this issue or any others, please email me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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