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Preventing Truth From Being a Casualty

By Andy Alexander

Truth, it is often said, is the first casualty of war. That old adage has been on the minds of The Post’s photo editors as they’ve tried to present visual images of the quarter century-old conflict in Sri Lanka, which appears to have ended Monday.

The problem has been how to authenticate photos from the war scene. “Due to the political climate, impartial media representatives are not in the conflict zones,” said night picture editor Mark Miller.

The Post has received numerous photos transmitted by the Associated Press or Reuters. But those wire services got many of their photos from either the Sri Lankan military or those loyal to the separatist rebel Tamil Tigers whose leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was reportedly killed on Monday. “I raised my concerns with using these photographs," Miller said, fearing either side could be using them for "propaganda."

Here’s an example. This top photo, from a pro-rebel group, was released on May 10 and carries a digital camera’s date and time stamp in the lower right. It purports to show civilians fleeing shelling by the Sri Lankan military.

But the bottom photo, released May 14 by the Sri Lankan military, claims to show an “uncropped” version of the same photo. To the right is a girl who appears to be smiling and carrying a camera -- hardly panicked from the alleged bombing.

It is unclear how the military came into possession of the photo. Indeed, the digital date and time stamp are missing. It is impossible to know whether the military electronically altered the photo, inserting the girl.

The challenge for The Post: How do you photographically capture the war without conveying false images? The answer, said Miller, is transparency. Unless a photo is known to be authentic, Post captions have included not only the original source for the photo, but also a carefully worded description of the circumstance.

For example, a May 18 photo inside the A-section is credited to “Sri Lankan Defense Ministry via Reuters” and carried this caption: “This photo shows what the army says are civilians crossing a lagoon to flee the northern battle zone.”

By Andy Alexander  | May 19, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
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"old adage"?

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | May 20, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Andrew, this is why the Washington Post should have been boistrous in their condemnation of the "mono-ethnic" Sinhala dominated Government of Sri Lanka's conduct of their "war without witnesses" against the Tamils.

Would WP have kept quiet if the British Army had done the same in Northern Ireland or if Canada had done the same to quell the Quebec French from deciding their future?

The International Community including news agencies and WP have FAILED to uphold the UN 2005 "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) the Tamils.

It is not too late - the GoSL is hell bent on decimating the Tamils and their lands in northeast parts of the Island. The International Community must STOP this. The WP can play a lead role in forcing the UN to invoke the R2P to STOP the killing of Tamils and PROTECT the Tamils.

Posted by: BosLogan | May 21, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

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