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World Press or Propaganda?

There are at least three ways of looking at this (and probably many more):

1: Jodie Bieber won the World Press Award for an important and eloquent photograph that has done much to highlight the abuse of women and their resilience in the face of unspeakable barbarism.

2: The photograph that won the World Press was used as propaganda that helps justify the billions of pounds of profit made from war. Bieber is not to blame for this and this should not be a consideration in the jury’s mind.

3: The photograph that won the World Press was used as propaganda that helps justify the billions of pounds of profit made from war. Bieber is complicit in the way the image of Aisha has been (ab)used.

If the answer is 1 then we should all be celebrating the award going to Bieber but if it is 2 or 3 then we should be worried.

I would not be the only person who is genuinely concerned that words were may have been put into Aisha’s mouth (not of course by Bieber). Read this extract from an interview with veteran journalist Ann Jones, who spoke with Aisha, as featured on Democracy Now:

UAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about one woman that became the front page of Time magazine in August, Bibi Aisha, the young Afghan woman who was pictured, her face mutilated, with the headline “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.” You’ve been particularly critical of that story and how the media have manipulated it. Could you talk about that?
ANN JONES: I was very concerned about the exploitation of that personal family tragedy in order to make a case for keeping American troops in Afghanistan and continuing this war, in which so many Afghans have suffered. Bibi Aisha’s case was not uncommon. Her particular mutilation has been her nose and ears being cut off. There are four cases of it reported this year by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. This, after Americans have been protecting Afghan women for eight or nine years in Afghanistan. This happens to be the way some Pashtun families treat women in order to keep them in servitude to the family. We are not going to change that by the presence of troops, and we’re not going to stop it by the presence of troops.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us her story, though, and how you feel it was misrepresented, in being on the cover, Time’s case for why the US is there?
ANN JONES: Mm-hmm. Bibi Aisha ran away from her parents-in-law’s house. Her husband was absent elsewhere in doing some kind of work or looking for work. She was treated as a servant and physically abused all the time. She ran away. Her father-in-law caught up with her and did this mutilation. The Time story amplifies that, saying it was done under orders by Taliban commanders and so on. That is not the story I heard from Bibi Aisha when I talked with her. But—


JUAN GONZALEZ: And you spoke to her before this Time story had ever come out.
ANN JONES: I spoke to her several weeks before, and other journalists have spoken to her, as well, and have reported the mutilation, but not this supposed instruction of the Taliban to do this. So I think the story changed in some way. How that happened, I don’t know. This young woman was deeply traumatized, and we know that people in that circumstance have selective memory or repressed memory, and maybe it changed later. I don’t know.

Bieber did not write the headline that accompanied the photo. She did not conduct an interview with Aisha. She did what she was paid to do and she did it brilliantly.  It can be argued that this is where her work as a journalist ended, with the photograph and that beyond that she has no other responsibilities.

But that’s not the way I see it and its not the way that Bieber sees it either. If you go to her website on the front page you will see the picture of the front cover of TIME.  She could just present the image of Aisha, the one that actually won the award, but the message she seems to be sending out is that the cover is more important than the person framed in it.

I am left wondering, and I am not the only one, if for Bieber fame is more important than truth? Why is the cover of Time the first thing we see when we visit her website if she is not promoting both the image and the way it was used?

If we are to celebrate and applaud the important truth that Bieber has so brilliantly captured, then surely its logical that at the same time we should despair at the way the photograph has been twisted?

I think we owe Aisha at least that.

Apparently not:

Other Thinking:

David Campbell: Jodi Bieber’s Afghan girl portrait in context

‘Most of us in the viewing public encounter photographs in one context or another. We rarely if ever see them in isolation, devoid of contextual elements. Shouldn’t WPP somehow consider the way images are published and circulated? I am not suggesting that the organisation take political issues and interpretations into account when making their decision. But can we really judge photographs in isolation as discrete objects any more?’

Politics, Theory, Philosophy – Category Mistake at World Press Photo Awards ~ Top Prize Given Not for Photojournalism But for Propaganda

The category mistake is that, perhaps despite the photographer’s intention*, this image was an integral part of a TIME Magazine propaganda piece last summer. I have defended that claim here repeatedly and will not reiterate my view. What I find especially disturbing here is that the jurors are aiding and abetting the propaganda campaign by de-contextualizing Bieber’s photo, presenting it as an iconic representation of the plight of women across the globe. In fact, it was deployed to much different ends, namely in an attempt to shore up support for a brutal decade old war. None of the jurors quoted on the World Press Photo page so much as mention the war or its costs. Shame.’

Conscientious- It is that time of the year again

There seem to be way too many shades of grey in this whole debate for simple decisions. And even if we assumed it was propaganda – would it be so wrong to pick a photo that will generate some debate? Don’t we need more debate about Afghanistan, our war there, and especially how our media portray/sell us the war – and not less?

Sojourneposse – Hyperrealistic portrayal of Asian women in the Western press

‘The media has the tendency to over-generalise a complicated reality, and in doing so, perhaps out of editorial convenience, it exaggerate some facts and omit others. Photography is a powerful propaganda tool, and its job is to amplify the message, or whatever is left of the original message after editing.

The positive images, probably too ordinary and not ‘sensational’, are frequently overlooked for publication.

We need to have a more mature and balanced view in depicting Asian women in conflict zones, and in general. We need to see representations not always framed as a ‘beautiful portrayal’ of sufferings by martyrs, saints, victims or enigmatic beings.

BagNewsNotes – What’s Wrong With The World Press Choice Of Photo Of The Year?

‘This is not to say, however, that Ms. Bieber’s striking photo should be solely penalized as top prize winner, or my critique hinged on the impact of the TIME controversy. Given the photo alone, however, the question I have to ask myself is: how much is the photo a window into Aisha’s life and past circumstances as opposed to a mirror reflecting the eye of the media as informed by the interests and tastes of the Western visual media consumer?’

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

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