Media Outlets Use Archival Pictures by 42% To Cover Violence in Myanmar

AKEED, Husam Assal

A monitoring conducted by the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) of the pictures used in a sample of 50 press articles published by local newspapers and websites on the recent violence in Myanmar has concluded that 42% of the pictures were old. There was no reference to the fact that these were archival pictures.

This result comes in light of difficulties faced by international media in covering the violence in the province of Arakan (west of Myanmar) in the wake of the blockade by the authorities in Myanmar against the province and allowing the media restricted access to the province. This has reflected on media coverage of the incidents in Myanmar in terms of the scarcity of news and visual content, thus creating room for many wrong pictures and presenting old pictures as new in covering the incidents.

Amid the crisis and ongoing violence in Arakan, many wrong pictures have spread, especially on social media platforms. This is apart from the fabricated stories about the incidents of violence. It is noticed that the same wrong pictures are repeatedly carried whenever violence erupts in the province.

Many media outlets depend on what is published by social media users. This has caused the pictures that show victims from the Rohingya Muslims to leak to numerous media outlets around the world. Many initiatives have sought to confirm the accuracy of the pictures and news by explaining the origin of these pictures to the public. It has transpired that many of them are shots taken from movies or pictures of the victims of natural disasters or of incidents of violence in other countries.

It was also noticed that media outlets and social media users have reposted correct pictures of old incidents of violence in the Arakan province, attributing them to recent incidents.

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) has monitored a sample of published pictures in 50 articles in local newspapers and websites since the start of the recent crisis. It has confirmed the truth and dates of the pictures. It turned out that there were no wrong pictures related to the acts of violence against the Rohingya minority. The old pictures that were not referred to as archival accounted for 42%. On the other hand, the correct and recent pictures related to recent incidents were 58%. The following table provides examples of the old pictures that are published without a reference to the fact that they are archival.

Old pictures

News that includes old pictures

Clashes or ethnic cleansing

Twenty bodies recovered after refugee boat of Rohingya Muslims sinks in Bangladesh

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee to Thailand

Why have massacres against Rohingya Muslims escalated now?

Student protesters clash with riot police in Myanmar

Kuwait allocates $1.5 million in urgent aid for the relief of Muslims of Myanmar

Myanmar forcefully relocates Muslims

United Nations fears "ethnic cleansing" against Muslims in Myanmar

Rohinga Refugees In Bangladesh

United Nations: What is happening to Rohingya "textbook example of ethnic cleansing"

Leaked documents reveal: Burma Crimes Against Rohingya Muslims  Exceeded Murder

Picture: Facebook supports Rohingya Muslims with cover "Stop Killing in Burma"

Myanmar President directs security forces to use force to quell communal violence

Why have massacres against Rohingya Muslims escalated now?


Jordan condemns crimes against Rohingya Muslims

Rohingya Crisis "Where Is Human Rights?"

Stand in solidarity with Myanmar Muslims

Hundreds more Myanmar Rohingya flee to Bangladesh: aid workers

President of Myanmar criticizes what she described as "misleading information"

Mohammed Abu Ghoush, photojournalist in Al Ghad daily, told AKEED that "most of the wrong and erroneous pictures are published on social media platforms that do not have control. The role of the media is to seek accuracy and credibility when publishing pictures and to refer to old pictures as such and not to manipulate them. They should refer to the source and photographer."The monitoring also showed that media outlets confused the concept of archival pictures with that of illustrative pictures. Some pictures were published in the local media with a caption that they were "illustrative," while in fact they were correct and real, but old, pictures. The caption should have read "archival pictures."

On why the media seeks the help of archival pictures, Hamzah Mazra"awi, photojournalist in Al Dustour daily, said that "there is no updating of pictures in some media outlets. They go back to the archive and to old pictures. This reflects a state of laziness." He said that "the phenomenon of carrying pictures without referring to their source is widespread." He attributed this phenomenon also to "the lack of professionalism in some media."

Osman Kabashi, supervisor of the newsroom at Aljazeera Net and trainer of digital press and editing at Al Jazeera Media Institute, told AKEED that "a picture is like other elements of a story or other press items. Here, we must verify its truth and credibility, just as we do with the text that we rely on as a source before taking a decision on publishing. If we publish it without doing this, media outlets will be before a legal and ethical responsibility."

He added that some media establishments "do not abide by the basic rules of journalistic work, such as accuracy, credibility, and integrity. They publish without verification, and they do not care about the consequences. They are only after a scoop. They might achieve this, but they might have to go to court or apologize to the public. Here, we should recall the golden rule in the media, particularly news media, which says: To be beaten to a story a thousand times is better than making a single apology."  

He noted the "the Internet, social media, and taking pictures easily by smart phones have provided a huge number of pictures of high quality. This tempts one to publish without verification." He said that "having a small number of staff is an important element in the spread of fake pictures and news, especially in the printed press."

The AKEED Monitor thinks that the media, internationally, is having difficulty getting information and pictures from Myanmar. This has reflected on the local media as it is difficult to get instant pictures and keep up with the current violence. However, this is not a justification for the lack of verification of the truth of pictures in light of the availability of numerous simple means that provide the service of verifying pictures.

It is observed that some media outlets find it easy to use old pictures in news content, let alone the exaggerated dependence on user-generated content on social media. AKEED thinks that it is necessary to have a system that classifies visual materials (pictures and video clips) to go back to them when needed, along with the date, place, and nature of incident that these visual materials capture.

AKEED concludes that this state of chaos of pictures and lack of verification is due to the wish to publish news quickly and not to provide in-depth and reliable media coverage.

The above practices violate the Press Code of Honor, which stresses the need for abiding by objectivity, accuracy, and professionalism. In addition, they violate the standard of clarity, which stresses the need for clearly referring to archival content as such and not presenting old content as new. There should be a clear reference to the date and source of the pictures and whether they are archival, illustrative, or related to a particular incident.