Manipulating BBC audience opinions with pictures

The BBC News website’s ‘In Pictures’ section includes a daily feature titled ‘Day in Pictures’ which mostly showcases photographs (taken by non-BBC photographers) relating to the particular day’s news and events. The section is edited by BBC Picture Editor Phil Coomes

The image below appeared in the ‘Day in Pictures’ feature for August 2nd.

In pictures August 2

The picture’s caption reads: [emphasis added]

“Israeli soldier removes a ladder placed by Palestinians who used it to climb over the controversial barrier, near Ramallah.”

The pop-up caption to the thumbnail version of the picture reads:

“An Israeli soldier removes a ladder placed by Palestinian males (not seen), not permitted to cross into Jerusalem from the West Bank by Israeli security forces, after they used it to climb over Israel [sic].” 

The picture was taken by Reuters photographer Mohamad Torokman and on the Reuters website we find another photograph from the same series with the caption:

“Palestinian males not permitted by Israeli security forces to cross into Jerusalem from the West Bank due to an age limit, climb over Israel’s controversial barrier, in the village of Al-Ram, near Ramallah, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan August 2, 2013.” [emphasis added]

Reuters photo A Ram

Reuters is of course not bound by the same editorial guidelines as the BBC. If the BBC is going to use photographs from agencies, it obviously needs to ensure that accompanying captions meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality. The inclusion of the word “controversial” clearly represents a breach of impartiality, pushing readers towards a specific political viewpoint which regards the building of an anti-terrorist fence to thwart terror attacks against Israeli civilians as “controversial”.

Likewise, the presentation of this photograph and its accompanying caption without any mention of the fact that record numbers of Palestinian civilians have received permits to enter Israel during Ramadan this year, together with the omission of any explanation regarding the criteria which form the basis of considerations for the granting of permits and why the entry into Israel by Palestinian males of a certain age might be considered a security risk, clearly also breaches editorial guidelines.

If all that relevant context is too much for one photo caption, then obviously the photograph is not suitable for use by the BBC. But when the BBC does elect to run such an image, accompanied by a caption which uses a politically loaded adjective and omits crucial context, then the only conclusion readers can reach is that this is another case of the BBC trying to shape a particular viewpoint in the minds of audiences.


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