World Press Photo props up ‘propaganda’

The World Press Photo Foundation (WPP) has been criticised for having Peter Souza, former US president Barack Obama’s official White House photographer, as the keynote speaker for its festival in Amsterdam next month.

Are Souza’s photos newsworthy, propaganda, or both?

During the Obama administration, US press photographers were restricted from photo ops and events involving the president.

In 2013 The New York Times reported the White House Correspondents’ Association and 37 news organisations submitted a letter to the administration, protesting ‘the establishment of the White House’s own Soviet-style news service’.

This was partly related to Souza’s unprecedented access to the president, which left press photographers barred from events.

Souza captured favourable photos of Obama, which were vetted by the White House before being transmitted to media.

Press photographers were outraged they were forbidden access, and media was being supplied a ‘sanitised visual record of the president’.

In 2013 Santiago Lyon, former director of photographer at Associated Press, labelled the ‘Orwellian image control’ as manifestly undemocratic, draconian and propaganda.

He added that while press photographers occasionally capture an embarrassing gaffe or unfavourable angle, their role is to capture an impartial historic record.

Practically all iconic photos of Obama were captured by Souza, who picked 300 images from almost two million to appear in his latest book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait, which he’s currently touring the world to promote.

The book will serve as the basis for the keynote speech at the World Press Photo Festival, taking place in Amsterdam from April 13-14.

Lyon is unsure Souza is an appropriate head speaker for an event that celebrates press photography, given the press restrictions that were enforced in favour of his work.

‘I really question the wisdom of having this person come and present his work,’ Lyon told The Washington Post, later adding ‘this is an issue that affect us all. It’s important in this era of fake news where politicians are undermining the credibility of the press.’

WPP, which champions ethics in photojournalism and has decried staged and manipulated photos ‘rife in the industry’, defended its decision in a statement to The Washington Post.

‘We educate the profession and the public on the making of these stories and encourage debate on their meaning. And we want to show and understand the realities of the media today.’

It won’t organise a debate, however the foundation says it will contexualise Souza’s images.

Washington Post picture editor, Olivier Laurent, concludes that:
‘By celebrating Pete Souza’s work without addressing the dangerous consequences that come with the associated loss of access, World Press Photo is missing an opportunity to stand on the side of press photographers — the bread and butter of its annual contest.’

It may come as a surprise that press photographers find US president Donald Trump more liberal with photographers.

Abbott and Baird went full Obama
ProCounter reported back in 2015 two cases of Australian politicians taking a leaf out of Obama’s book.

The Australian
newspaper was called out for featuring a front page photo of former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, looking busy with troops up in Darwin.

The image was captured by Brad Hunter, an ex-News Corp photographer who scored a full-time gig photographing Abbott. The Australian claimed it didn’t have the resources to have a photographer on the ground.

That same year, former NSW premier Mike Baird won the state election and a rather Obama-esque black-and-white staged photo of him embracing his wife was posted to social media.

Meanwhile, Fairfax press photographer, Andrew Meares, who was assigned to capture Baird, desperately tried to gain access but was denied.

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