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January 26th, 2012

US Falls To #47 On Press Freedom Index, Thanks to Occupy Crackdowns

Reporters Without Borders ranked the United States 47th on their 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index, down 27 places from the previous year, tied with Argentina and Romania.

“In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 [journalists] were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation,” Reporters Without Borders wrote in their report. The US “owed its fall” to arrests and harassment related to coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the non-profit reporters’ rights group said.

The drop saw the US ranked just above Latvia, and Trinidad and Tobago, which fell 20 places due to a scandal involving the government spying on journalists.

In a statement released along with the index today, Reporters Without Borders noted that “Many media [around the world] paid dearly for their coverage of democratic aspirations or opposition movements…. Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011.”

In North African and Middle East, the Arab uprisings greatly affected the rankings of several nations. In Tunisia and Libya rose in the index as censorious regimes were deposed. Egypt, however, fell 39 places in the index due in part to “The hounding of foreign journalists for three days at the start of February, the interrogations, arrests and convictions of journalists and bloggers by military courts, and the searches without warrants,” the report said.

Syria and Yemen were already lowly ranked, so their crackdowns on demonstrations and journalists only caused them to sink a bit lower. Iran fell in the rankings to 175. China, “which has more journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents in prison than any other country,” the report notes, also ranked near the bottom of the index at 174.

Eritrea was the worst nation in the ranking for a fifth straight year, and its Horn of Africa neighbors Somalia and Sudan also received low rankings as part of an East African region where journalists are regularly subjected to violence, censorship and lengthy prison sentences served in awful conditions.

The Press Freedom Index is calculated using a scoring system based on a questionnaire distributed to partner organizations, a network of 150 correspondents around the world, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.

For the full report and more on the creation of the index, see the full Reporters Without Borders release.

Related: New York Times Photographer Blocked by NYPD
Photogs Arrested in Raid on Occupy Protest at Zuccotti Park

January 5th, 2012

CPJ Says Missing New York Times Driver is Dead

The Committee to Protect Journalists says Mohamed Shaglouf, the driver hired by The New York Times who went missing in Libya last March, is dead. (Update: the CPJ informs PDN that it first reported Shaglouf’s death in early November.)

CPJ lists Shaglouf among 5 media workers killed on the job during 2011. In addition, CPJ says a total of 80 journalists died last year–45 of them killed in crossfire or in retribution for their reporting, and another 35 for whom the motives of their deaths have not been confirmed.

Shaglouf was working for four Times journalists, including photographers Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks, who were arrested at a checkpoint by fighters loyal to former Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi. They reported after their release six days later that they had lost sight of Shaglouf at the time of their arrest.

CPJ says it was told by the Times on November 7 that Shaglouf was killed at the checkpoint, according to information the Times attributed to Shaglouf’s brother.

Reporter Anthony Shadid, who was one of the four Times journalists detained at the checkpoint, also recently acknowledged during a radio interview with Terry Gross of WHYY in Philadelphia that Shaglouf was killed.

Last spring, before Shaglouf’s fate was known, Times editor Bill Keller angrily defended the paper’s treatment of fixers in the wake of accusations that the Times–and other major news organizations–don’t do enough to take care of “local hires” who are hurt, killed, or captured on the job.

“We fulfill our obligation to employees, including  local hires, who are hurt or killed in the line of duty, and to their  families in the case of death. (Yes, this includes Mohamed Shaglouf.)” Keller told the Poynter Institute last May.

The Times did not respond to PDN’s request in September for information about Shaglouf’s fate, or about any compensation that the paper might be providing to his family.

Among the 45 journalists who died in 2011 because of their work, CPJ lists 6 photographers: Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, who died while covering the fighting in Libya last April 20; Anton Hemmerl, who died April 5, also while covering the fighting in Libya; Jamal al-Sharaabi, a photojournalist for the independent weekly Al-Masdar, who died while covering Arab Spring demonstrations in Yemen on March 18; Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, killed January 17 while covering the uprising in Tunisia; and Luis Emanuel Ruiz Carillo, a photographer for La Prensa in Monclova, Mexico who was abducted and shot by unknown assailants on March 25.

Related stories:

Talking About the Deaths We Don’t Talk About
What To Expect from Clients If You’re Injured on Assignment
Libya Says it Will Release Times Journalists Today

December 29th, 2011

Official News Agency of a Totalitarian Regime Doctored a News Photo. Imagine That.

© Korea Central News Agency

The photo of the funeral of Kim Jung-Il distributed by the Korean Central News Agency, the official news agency of North Korea, was stunning: Limousines driving in formation behind a giant portrait of the Supreme Leader, rows of mourners lining their route, snow whitening the ground, a giant North Korean flag billowing majestically at the top of the frame. It was picture perfect. Too perfect, apparently.

Today The New York Times Lens Blog compares the image from the official news agency with one taken at almost the same moment by a photographer with Kyodo News of Japan, and distributed by AP. Working with digital forensics expert Hany Farid of Dartmouth, they show that the image from Korean Central was Photoshopped. The Lens blog goes into lots of detail, showing (with several close ups) that some men standing on the sidelines with a camera were erased, replaced with cloned snow. (Read more about their analytical methods and see the photos here.)

Lens reports that the doctored photo had been distributed by European Pressphoto Agency, Reuters and Agence-France Presse (AFP) before the retouching was discovered by The New York Times (which had also, briefly, run the image on its Web site). Once Lens reported

Undoctored photo, © Kyodo News

that the photo was doctored, the three agencies issued kill notices, Lens reports. “This photo was altered from the source and not by AFP,” the agency noted.

Gee, if you can’t trust an official news photo from the government of a secretive nation with a history of repressing journalism, who can you trust?

Maybe the agencies can be excused for not anticipating that such a stage-managed spectacle would be doctored. The retouching doesn’t seem politically motivated, as in all those airbrushed photos from Stalinist Russia. Why would a North Korean photo editor go to the trouble of Photoshopping out a few anonymous figures?

The Lens blog offers one explanation: “totalitarian esthetics.”

“With the men straggling around the sidelines, a certain martial perfection is lost. Without the men, the tight black bands of the crowd on either side look railroad straight.” When it comes to stage-managed spectacle, symmetry is all.

December 21st, 2011

No Charges Filed Against Milwaukee News Photographer

Prosecutors have decided not to “issue any tickets” against a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photographer arrested while covering an Occupy protest near the University of Wisconsin last month, the newspaper has reported.

It is unclear from the report what grounds prosecutors may have had–if any–for issuing tickets.

The photographer, Kristyna Wentz-Graff, was arrested while photographing the protest November 2, and taken to a police station in downtown Milwaukee. The Journal Sentinel reported at the time that she was arrested “without warning [and] without being told why she was being arrested.”

In video footage that circulated online showing a police officer grabbing Wentz-Graff and handcuffing her, the photographer’s press credentials were clearly visible, and she was carrying two cameras–one with a very large lens. (A still photo of her arrest can be seen here.) Bystanders also reportedly told police she was a working journalist as they arrested her.

Under criticism for the arrest, and protest from the Journal Sentinel, police said at the time they had no idea she was a journalist until after they arrived with Wentz-Graff at the police station.

The mayor of Milwaukee reportedly said shortly after the arrest that it was clear to him from the video footage that Wentz-Graff was a journalist, and he added, “I very much support her First Amendment right to be there.”

Related: Pictures of Photog’s Arrest Force Police Accountability

December 16th, 2011

The Biggest Photo News Stories of 2011

Over on PDNOnline we’ve gathered together the biggest photography news stories of 2011, a year marked infringements on the rights of photographers, by sticky legal cases whose results will be felt long into the future, and by tragedy. The 15 stories we highlighted were the most-read news articles and blog posts on PDNOnline and PDN Pulse this year.

Which of these stories do you think was the most important news story of the year? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

December 15th, 2011

New York Times Photographer Blocked by NYPD

A new video making the rounds on the Internet captured a police officer preventing New York Times freelance photographer Robert Stolarik from taking photographs of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors getting arrested at the World Financial Center on December 12, 2011. In November, multiple media outlets signed a letter sent to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly complaining about the treatment of journalists covering the OWS movement. In response to the complaint, Commissioner Kelly ordered officers not to impede any journalists from reporting on the protests. The officer in the video appears to be violating that order.

The video, which was recently uploaded to YouTube, shows officers creating a “human wall” in order to  purposefully block onlookers from taking photos and videos of the arrests. However, around the two-minute mark, it becomes apparent that one officer repeatedly prevents Stolarik, whose press badge is clearly visible, from photographing the arrest by placing his body in front of the camera’s lens. In response to the video, various Web sites are reporting that the assistant general counsel for The New York Times has sent another letter to Commissioner Kelly.

Related blog posts:
Photogs Arrested in Raid on Occupy Protest at Zuccotti Park
Video Shows Police Shooting Photographer

November 7th, 2011

Pictures of Photog’s Arrest Force Police Accountability

The arrest of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff (©Lita Medinger)

Once again, police officers have arrested a photographer doing her job–this time in Milwaukee–only to let her go a few hours later without charges. The summary round-up of journalists at street demonstrations is a form of intimidation, and rough injustice: It’s a convenient way of putting journalists out of commission for the duration of a police action. But with cameras so ubiquitous now, it’s ultimately a losing strategy for police.

In Milwaukee, Journal Sentinel photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff was arrested last Wednesday while photographing a peaceful Occupy demonstration. Just before she arrived on the scene, police had ordered protestors to leave the street. Police had blocked the street with their cars, and started making arrests. Wentz-Graff started taking pictures of an arrest as soon as she arrived.

According to the Journal Sentinel, “While she was taking pictures, she was grabbed by an officer, handcuffed and arrested, without warning or without being told why she was being arrested.”

Under criticism for violating the First Amendment rights of a journalist, the Milwaukee police chief held a news conference Thursday to defend his officers. He said the arresting officer thought the photographer was a protester and added that her status as a journalist “was not obvious to the officers” at the scene.

But looking at the pictures taken by others of the arrest, one has to wonder: Do Milwaukee police officers need to get their eyes checked? Wentz-Graff had her press ID badge clearly visible, as an image by Lita Medinger in the Journal Sentinel shows, and two cameras around her neck–one of them with a very large Canon telephoto lens that screamed “journalist.”(That camera and lens are hidden behind the police car in the Journal Sentinel image, but were clearly visible in this  TV video of the arrest.)

The mayor, after watching a TV video of the arrest, said to the Journal Sentinel, “It appeared very clear to me that she was a photojournalist.” He added, “I very much support her First Amendment right to be there.”

The police chief acknowledged that Wentz-Graff had “big fancy cameras,” but protestors carry cameras, too, he noted. And he added, “According to the officer at the scene, he didn’t notice her ID. He was just focusing on the task at hand. He perceived her as part of the problem he had to solve.”

Fair enough. But with his boss in the hot seat, the arresting officer has probably been advised to pay more attention to what he’s doing.

More importantly, though, Milwaukee’s police chief has pledged to try to make things right with the media. He says he’s going to meet with editors of various Milwaukee news outlets to examine police policy, and “identify those circumstances in which the perception is we are not playing fair with the press and let’s correct it.”

It’s hard not to imagine that all the pictures of the incident had a lot to do with an outcome that’s so good for the First Amendment, and for democracy. It’s not too much of a leap to argue that the whole Occupy movement has been at least partially protected by a force field of cameras. A few incidents of police brutality have resulted in more support for the movement, and widespread condemnation of the police departments involved (in New York City and Oakland, California.)

The police certainly do a tough, important job protecting us from crime, but to avoid accountability by arresting photojournalists, they’re going to have to arrest pretty much every bystander with a cell phone.

October 19th, 2011

What do you charge for editorial retouching, and how?

In our feature “Does Editorial Post-Production Cost Too Much?” which appears in the November issue of PDN, photographers, retouchers and photo editors weighed in. They offered their experiences about both how much photographers and retouchers charge editorial clients, but how they explain their fees to clients.

“One of our biggest challenges is that the fees vary so greatly between photos,” Wired photo editor Zana Woods told PDN.

Kathy Ryan, the director of photography at The New York Times Magazine says she’s seen photographers asking for as much as $1000 per image.

Photographer Jeff Minton, who does most retouching himself, says he charges editorial clients a flat $75-$100 per image, depending on the work they want done, which is comparable to the price he once charged for custom color prints.

Retoucher Angie Hayes says some magazines at Condé Nast simply stick to a standard per-image fee of $350 for an inside photo, and $600 for a cover. Andi Kounath, owner and retoucher at redfishblack in New York, says small magazines “never pay for retouching.”

So, what do you charge for retouching? And do you think photo editors have a reasonable expectation of the costs of producing and delivering print-ready images? Do you incorporate retouching into your photo fee, or is it a separate line item? How do you calculate what post-production costs you? Is it reasonable for photographers to mark-up the cost of retouching when they hire freelancers? Are you losing money on retouching because editors don’t have the budget to cover the costs?

Please enter your comment below or in the Facebook discussion here.

September 1st, 2011

Pulitzer Winner Larry Price Quits Newspaper in Protest

Veteran photographer Larry Price has quit his job as director of photography for the Dayton Daily News rather than carry out an order from management to fire half of the paper’s photographers, according to a recent article in the Dayton Business Journal.

“I’ve watched this happen in newspapers year after year now. I’ve had many, many friends that have been affected, many stellar journalists,” Price told the Dayton Business Journal. “These people are my group. They’re my friends. They’re my colleagues. I’ve asked so much of them in the four years I’ve been here. Every time, they’ve stepped up to the plate and delivered. It wasn’t a decision I could make in good conscience.”

The article goes on to explain how the morale and integrity of the photo department were slowly eroded by management decisions, according to Price. For instance, he was told that a photograph of a girl with tears in her eyes at a candlelight vigil was too emotional.

“The new prerogative, as it was explained to me, was to dumb down the photo report, to pull back and show crowd photographs,” Price is quoted as saying.

Price won a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1981 for his coverage of the coup in Liberia for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1985 for his photographs of the wars in Angola and El Salvador for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He was recruited from the Denver Post four years ago to head the photo department at the Dayton Daily News.

August 9th, 2011

Newspaper Sues to Obtain Ernest Withers’ FBI File

The Memphis Commercial Appeal dropped a bombshell last fall when it reported that the renowned civil rights photographer Ernest Withers worked secretly as an FBI informant, helping the agency “gain a front-row seat to the civil right and anti-war movements in Memphis.”

Now the newspaper says it is suing the FBI for the release of Withers’ complete FBI informant file, in an effort to learn the full extent of his activities as an informant. The questions the paper is trying to answer: When did Withers begin working as an informant? And what information and photographs did he provide to the FBI?

According to the paper, the FBI has refused a Freedom of Information Act request to release Withers’ confidential informant file. So the Commercial Appeal has sued in US District Court in Washington, DC to force the FBI to release the file.

“Holding to decades-old doctrine protecting confidential sources,” the newspaper reported on August 7, “the government argues that exposing any informant, even a dead one, would have a chilling effect when recruiting new informants needed to help battle crime and protect national security.”

Lawyers for the newspaper are arguing that the FBI “is hiding behind laws designed to protect living informants”

Withers died in 2007 at the age of 85. He photographed the civil rights movement from the Emmett Till murder trial in 1955 through the assassination Martin Luther King in 1968 and amassed one of the largest archives an on African-American society, music and culture.

The Commercial Appeal came across Withers’ informant ID number by chance in a document related to a public corruption probe from 1970s that involved the photographer. At the time, Withers was a state employee and had been accused of taking payoffs, the newspaper said.

The FBI blacked out informant ID numbers before releasing the document, but apparently overlooked one number–that belonging to Withers.

“That number, in turn, unlocked the secret of the photographer’s 1960s political spying when the newspaper located repeated references to the number in other FBI reports released…30 years ago,” the paper explained in a story last fall.

A decision on the paper’s lawsuit to compel the FBI to release Withers’ file is pending.