The Ahram "photo" and the Western media's reaction

GMT 13:57 2010 Thursday ,30 September

Arab Today, arab today The Ahram "photo" and the Western media's reaction

A statement by the Chairman Dr. Abdel-Monem Said The publication by Al-Ahram of a Photoshop-altered photo, intended as a graphic design showing the leaders of the US, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt on the red carpet

at the White House has triggered a furor of coverage and commentary in much of the world's press and on the web. As chairman of Egypt's oldest and largest news organization, it behooves me to draw attention to the following:

  1. The photo/design ran alongside a two-page feature/analysis entitled "The Road to Sharm El-Sheikh", and was intended as an illustrative complement to that headline. Co-authored by myself and my colleague Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Salam, this was a hitherto unpublished document and detailed account of the largely behind-the-scenes initiative aimed at re-launching Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which began with President Barak Obama's entry to the White House, leading to the first official session of the jump-started talks between the two parties in the Egyptian Red Sea resort.
  2. This "Special Report" has disappeared from the commentary on the highly criticized photo to the degree that it appeared that Al Ahram has decided to alter an original White House photo for no reason other than showing the President of Egypt ahead of all others. Nor was it mentioned that the published photo was visually integrated with the text of the report via its title: THE ROAD TO SHARM EL-SHEIKH, set in Arabic calligraphy, ands signed by the designer (Al Maghrabi) in order to underline that it was, in fact, a design. Neither was it mentioned that the two page-report was accompanied by five other photos, including a photo of the city of Jerusalem, spread out on eight columns.
  3. Furthermore, the salient points of the report were set out in bold type across the two pages, some of them around the photo. This was an attempt at underlining that the design was intended as a comment on the report, and not a republishing of the September 1st photo taken at the White House.
  4. Indeed, the original photo had been published in most of Al-Ahram's publication on the day in question, and it would have been wholly redundant to republish it on the occasion of a novel event, namely the meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh.
  5. We live at a time when the media whether print; audio-visual or online is increasingly resorting to new digital technologies to graphically and visually represent images, stories, notions and ideas. In doing so, the media everywhere is faced with the challenge of defining the often fine lines demarcating between accepted practice and unacceptable departures. This is a legitimate subject for debate, criticism and correction, but should not be a pretext for mutual disparagement among the media of different countries, especially when such denigration comes from the media of the more industrially and technologically advanced societies, towards those which are as yet attempting to keep up with the breakneck speed of the information/communications revolution.
  6. It was a sad reflection of the media's thirst for sensation that amidst the hullabaloo surrounding the new- designed photo to fit a new subject, there was almost no mention of the editorial content which that the photo/design (rightly or wrongly) sought to illustrate. A pity, since that content included a great deal of information that had hitherto been hidden, and provided important insight into an ongoing process aimed at resolving one of the most intractable conflicts in of this, as of the last century, the repercussions of which ñ as all are aware ñ tend to extend far and wide.
  7. It is doubly unfortunate that the furor surrounding the publication of the altered photo amounted ultimately to a campaign of vilification against Al-Ahram, which continues to be Egypt's top newspaper, unequaled in terms of circulation numbers (ahead of the second runner up by nearly one million copies per week), resources and editorial capabilities.
  8. It comes, furthermore, at a time when Al-Ahram is undergoing a massive process of reform and transformation. At this very moment the organization is witnessing no less than 82 initiatives, technical and editorial, aimed at recreating it as a media organization with a strong presence in web journalism as well as in television and radio.
  9. Since my taking over as chairman of Al-Ahram on July 4, 2009, I have openly and in the strongest terms declared the comprehensive reform and development of the organization on all levels, to be my top priority and the hallmark of my mandate as chairman. This commitment has not been kept an inter-organizational matter, but rather I have made it a point to open it for discussion ñ through my editorial articles ñ with Al-Ahram's readership.
  10. There is, admittedly, a great deal that needs to be done within Al-Ahram, and indeed, throughout the media landscape in Egypt in order to develop its role and its perception of that role as one, not of political mobilization, but of contributing to the creation of an informed public able to make its own mind on the issues of the day, both domestic and international.
  11. And while Al-Ahram as an organization is fully committed to realizing this change, even as it works to align itself with the dramatic revolution taking place in both the industry and the profession everywhere in the world, we need to be aware that this is a long and arduous undertaking that we are determined to pursue.

Abdel-Monem Said, Chairman of the Board Al-Ahram Establishment
From: Al Ahram

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