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Democracy and Photojournalism

AFP, AP and Reuters said no. Getty Images just went for it. As a new President enters the White House, a new photo policy seem to emerge. After the really bad images of him backstage watching the results of election night posted on Flickr, Obama, or his administration, has broken tradition by making the first images of him in the Oval Office a handout.

The major wire services boycotted these images saying that it has always been a tradition to let their own photographers shoot these images. Offering the same set of images taken by a White House photographer ( Peter Souza ?) is not acceptable.

While the White House, and maybe Obama himself sees this as more democratic, the journalistic world sees it as an attempt to manipulate and send out well managed propaganda images. If the Bush administration had done the same, the media would have been up in arms showing how the Republicans were trying to control the media and the message. Because Obama did it probably with the intent of being more democratic, it seems to pass.

Because these are White House images, it seems that more distribution channels ( read, photo agencies) had access to them then if had been a pool wire service photographer. In that, it is probably a good thing. However, since the image was taken by a staff photographer of the White House whose mission is to ehnace the message, there was no objectivity in the images. None of these images were taken to shown his first day at work in his new oval shaped office, but rather to make him look good.

Journalism is taken very seriously in the United States of America, and like the separation of Church and state, there is a clear separation of State and Media. One cannot control the other, regardless of the intent. Controlling what images come out of the White House is not a step forward in democracy. What would be more of a democracy move would be to let other photographic news outlet access to photograph the president’s work.

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