Media Manipulation: Are Conflict Photos Staged?

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A photograph or video can be misleading. The adage that “the camera never lies” has itself never seemed more unreliable— in an age where visual documentation can present a warped or even entirely false picture of events for purposes of propaganda or sensationalism. The toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square is a famous example of how what’s reported does not necessarily reflect reality. On that occasion, what was portrayed in the western media as a spontaneous demonstration against a hated dictator by his former subjects was in fact an event orchestrated for cameras by American-led coalition forces. Recently, Italian photographer Ruben Salvadori has offered a new perspective on photojournalism within the context of conflict by turning his camera back onto his fellow journalists. His photo essay Photojournalism Behind the Scenes explores the process of conflict-image-production in an area of East Jerusalem where Palestinian riots against Israeli forces are a weekly occurrence. In the accompanying video Salvadori questions the role and influence of journalists in conflict situations by “breaking the taboo of the invisible photographer.”

This may be seen as the latest salvo in what has been variously dubbed ‘Pallywood’ and ‘Hezbollywood’ by pro-Israeli media watchdog advocates, terms used to describe the phenomenon of manufacturing documentation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2005 Boston University professor Richard Landes produced the documentary Pallywood: According to Palestinian Sources, alleging specific instances of media manipulation designed to win the public relations war against Israel. It was a rebuttal in kind to the 2004 documentary Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land, which accused the US media of distorted and pro-Israel coverage on most of the major news networks. Both documentaries presented specific examples of intentional misrepresentation or invention of reported events by the media.

Photojournalism Behind the Scenes sheds new light on how the situation in Israel and Palestine continues to be as much a war waged through means of PR and the media as it is a physical conflict. By drawing attention to this hidden dimension of the conflict, it offers a criticism of the media industry’s demands for dramatic photos – demands that have led some journalists to look for and create drama where there is none. Developing his project beyond this area, Salvadori now aims to investigate other conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Photojournalism Behind the Scenes [ITA-ENG subs] from Ruben Salvadori on Vimeo.



Saddam hussein photo :

Pallywood :

Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land:

Photo-journalism behind the scenes:

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8 responses to “Media Manipulation: Are Conflict Photos Staged?”

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  2. Romi Elnagar says:

    The deplorable conditions that innocent men, women and children endure inside Israeli prisons are seldom photographed or documented by the media.  We never see pictures on the American MSM of the conditions that Gazans and Palestinians in the Occupied Terrorities endure (or in Israel proper, itself, for that matter).
    So, while it may be true that a fraction of the photos we see of Palestinians demonstrating are staged, the fact of the matter is that there is almost no real, authentic media presence documenting any of the genocide of Palestinians in any case.  It should also be mentioned that while Israeli funerals of victims of Palestinian retribution may be genuine, the grief expressed certainly seems staged, especially when contrasted with the complete absence of any sort of reporting about why Palestinians might respond with violence to the theft of their lands and the on-going genocide of their people.

  3. Joe says:

    This young photographer confuses two distinct dynamics: the influence of the media’s presence at a scene of conflict and the actual manipulation of the scene by the media.  In the latter case, the photographers are worse than paparazzi, since they falsely claim to be journalists and should be fired by their publications.

    Secondly, I find troublesome the use of the term “riots”.  Not one of the images portrayed anything close to a “riot”.  Plus, it is a term that colors the youngsters throwing stones, etc. as unruly anarchists, thus undermining any legitimacy their actions might have in opposing a brutal occupying army.

    While the project explicitly takes a critical look at the journalists in these conflict situations, it seems to implicitly cast doubt on the realities of the conflict that results in real dead and wounded people, destroyed homes, ethnic cleansing, land and water theft, etc.

    • Mauricio says:

      This project may well ‘implicitly cast doubt on the realities of the conflict’, but only in the media’s portrayl of them- which is the whole point of it. This young photographer’s intentions seem only to act as a documentarian, not to cast stones or make comment on either side of the conflict. You’re right that his use of the word ‘riot’ could be contentious, though it does not seem intentionally judgemental (maybe naive or even a mistranslation?), as this is the only critique of either side of the conflict, if it can even be seen as one. Perhaps protest would be a better word, though to imply this photographer is taking sides through this short film alone seems unfair.

    • tildi says:

       I don’t think, that the project “implicitly cast doubt on the realities of the conflict”. On the contrary, it puts the finger on the implications the goals of media producation and of journalists have on the reception – and the definition – of the conflict by media consumers, but which remain in most cases and for most consumers unconscious but which are nevertheless effective.

  4. Malcolm Cuthbertson says:

    Very interesting perspective on the role journalists can play on influencing peoples perception of events.  I am sure that this sort of practice must go against some code of practice governing the profession and should be investifgated more thouroughly.

  5. gnineamneddihrofkool says:

    Real eyes realize real lies.

  6. Rc says:

    Here’s an outstandingly detailed analysis of exactly this type of manipulation: