AP lifts brief ban on Pentagon photos after assurances

Monday, November 24, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Associated Press has lifted its suspension on the use of photos provided by the U.S. military after the Pentagon assured the news cooperative that it would avoid distributing altered images to the news media.

The temporary ban that ended Nov. 21 was imposed last week after the Army released a digitally manipulated photo of the U.S. military's first female four-star general. The photo of Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody was the second Army-provided photo the AP eliminated from its service in the last two months.

Dunwoody appeared in front of an American-flag background, but it was later learned that the background had been added to the photo.

Santiago Lyon, the AP's director of photography, said he spoke with Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell, who told him the military branches would be reminded of a Defense Department instruction that prohibits making changes to images if doing so misrepresents the facts or the circumstances of an event.

“Anything that weakens or casts doubt on the credibility of official DOD imagery in or outside the Department of Defense shall not be tolerated,” the instruction states.

The instruction does not bar cropping, editing or enlarging a photo to improve its quality. An image can also be changed for security or privacy reasons.

According to the BBC, an Army public-relations officer said the Dunwoody photo did not violate the service's policy.

“We're not misrepresenting her,” the British news organization quoted Col. Cathy Abbott as saying. “The image is still clearly Gen. Dunwoody.”

The earlier incident, according to the BBC, involved a photo of Darris Dawson, a soldier killed in Iraq. Abbott said that photo, released in September and rejected for use by the AP, was altered digitally because Dawson's unit did not have an official picture of him.

“That photo was released to the public strictly by accident,” she told the BBC. “We apologized for that.”

The AP has revised its internal procedures for handling handout photos from any outside source. These images must be closely examined in Photoshop, a photo-editing program, by at least two editors. If there's any question about the integrity of an image, it won't be used.

In rare cases where an image from an outside source has been altered but the AP still elects to use it, the caption will explain why the photo was changed.

“AP pictures must always tell the truth,” Lyon wrote in a message to AP's photo staff.

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