The BBC is currently running a feature titled ‘Freedom 2014’ which includes contributions solicited from members of the public. Among the items promoted on the dedicated webpage – as well as on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on February 27th– was a pictorial feature titled “Visions of freedom in the Middle East and North Africa“.
There, BBC audiences could view fourteen reader-contributed photographs including images of “birds in flight in Abu Dhabi”, camels in the desert in Saudi Arabia and a child playing in the waves in Dubai. Also featured were less abstract, more political images submitted by people from Iran, Bahrain, Egypt and Lebanon. In addition, audiences saw the picture below – which was contributed by a member of the public not from the region, in notable contrast to the majority of the other photographs selected.
Caption: “Stephen Almond from UK visited Gaza as part of a renal transplant team in December 2013.”It was strange to have to enter a place through such severe security”, he says, of the Erez Crossing.”
Clearly there is not much room for context in a photo feature and hence both the choice of image and caption are of considerable importance – especially to an organization committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality and – one would hope – to the freedom of audiences to reach informed opinions based on the full range of facts surrounding a particular topic.
In this case, uninformed members of the BBC’s audience are left with a context-free image of fencing, to be interpreted – and remembered – without the necessary additional knowledge of why it and “such severe security” measures are needed to protect the freedoms of Israeli civilians from the actions of violent terrorist organisations. How many of those BBC audience members will actually get the real picture? And how many will simply remember ‘Palestinians behind fences’?