Below is an image of the July 24, 2016 front page of the Philippine Sunday Inquirer. Some statements have been issued asserting the authenticity of the photo splashed in full width on the masthead of this edition. These statements follow two articles we published highlighting disturbing aspects of this spread: Hector Gamboa’s On Deceptive Media and Photojournalism and my own Sensationalised photo of ‘extrajudicial killing’ victim splashed on Inquirer front page.
The photo used in the above spread was taken by noted photojournalist Raffy Lerma who, in an article published on the Inquirer with the title A NIGHT OF ANGUISH AND TORMENT: The story behind the viral photo wrote an account of the steps he went through to take this and other photos of the same subject and scene from various angles. The point he was making, it seems, was primarily around how his work supposedly faithfully captures the event and the essence of the circumstances surrounding it in order to tell an important story.
In a post published on his Instagram account, Lerma shared what is supposedly a statement issued by Joe Torres, chairman of the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP) backing the “authenticity” of his work…
After looking into the photographs in question and after holding conversations with some of the journalists who have been covering the night shift, we assure the public that there is no reason to doubt the truthfulness and the integrity of the photographs.We are convinced that the photojournalists, especially those covering the police beat in Metro Manila, have been relentless in doing their job to bring out the right information that will benefit the public.There is no truth to insinuations of manipulation of photos or staging or setting up of the scene of the crime. Those who think they know better than those who are on the scene – including the police, the first responders, and the bystanders – are only deceiving themselves.We stand by our photojournalists.
Unfortunately for Lerma and the PCP, in focusing on defending the authenticity of these photos using a definition of “authenticity” that is both narrow and taken outside of the context of the bigger messaging approach taken by theInquirer in the manner it laid out its July 24 Sunday front page, the point Gamboa and myself were making in our articles was missed by a mile.
While one can understand Lerma’s position when discussing the photo on its own, the fact is his work was made part of a bigger frame or context consisting of the other elements that accompanied it on the front cover of thatInquirer 24th July edition.
It is the overall authenticity of the message encompassing not just the photo itself but the whole context behind and surrounding it that we are bringing to question on the basis of the overall circumstances of its production.
This is why the circumstances around how this scene came to be set up for this photo shoot is relevant and, within that sphere of relevance, falls the contribution of possible police impropriety in the management of the crime scene.
In short, whether deliberate or not, there is evidence of inadvertent (to give Lerma the benefit of the doubt) collusion between the police and the “photojournalists” at the scene. Lerma and the editors of the Inquirer may plead “not my responsibility” as far as police conduct is concerned, but in the overall scheme of things, the authenticity of the work and the intent of theInquirer is suspect as a result of this collective play.