Integrity or a good image?


On 16 April 2014, the Daily Mirror newspaper printed a full page front story highlighting the increased food banks usage in the UK, illustrated with the emotive photograph of a crying child.

The narrative read: 'Britain, 2014. We're the sixth largest economy in the world. We have more millionaires than ever before...So why have we handed out ONE MILLION food parcels? And new figures reveal 330,000 went to hungry children...Shock report pages 4 & 5.'

The problem was that, as blogger Dan Barker discovered, the photograph first appeared on Linda Rosenbaum's Flickr account in November 2009. Her child, Anne, went to a park in the USA, found an earthworm which she called 'Flower' and then lost it. The result of this loss was the tearful image that found itself on the front page of a British newspaper. Incidentally, other photographs of Anne on the Flickr site show a happy, contented girl living in America.

The newspaper says it wanted to use a photograph that would engage its readers with the story. To meet this aim, it approached the respected picture agency Getty which, with the permission of the girl's parents, offered the photograph as part of its vast resource.

The Daily Mirror did not caption the picture, and the girl might not have been identified had it been in the days before Google and Flickr.

It has not been the first time that this particular newspaper has used images that were misrepresentations. Earlier in April 2014, it had to issue an apology to a software developer when it ran a story illustrated with an image of him holding a large rat at his home in North London. The description was that he was a pest controller in Liverpool. A Trinity Mirror spokesman claimed that the newspaper had been 'deceived' about the location of the photograph. Ironically, overleaf from the photograph of the crying girl, the paper printed a clarification on the front page photograph of the giant rat saying: 'We would like to point out that the picture of a giant rat in Monday's paper was actually taken in North London, not Merseyside, last year. We were given incorrect information and apologise for the confusion.'

The use of stock photographs is a common one. However, there is the danger of the image distorting the truth so that, when the true background of the shot is revealed, it diminishes the point that is being made. It highlights the point that images have to be published by all publications and organisations that accurately reflect the issue of the article. There is the need for investigation if there is uncertainty about provenance.

It is acknowledged that there would have been problems in obtaining images of children in poverty in 21st century Britain, mainly through accusations of exploitation of that child. However, there would have other ways imagewise to illustrate what is a thought provoking story, especially through checking its sources for the image.

God has given us an important truth in that whatever we do, there has to be honesty and uprightness – otherwise, it may come back to show up our failings. Proverbs 11: 3 reminds us: 'The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.' We should be also guided by Proverbs 10: 9: 'The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths be found out.'

We do not need to be journalists or writers for us to check out our facts and so be in a 'secure position' (2 Peter 3: 17) when we communicate to others.

We are commanded by God to act worthily so not to deceive others and to glorify Him.