Freelance photographer cut loose by Associated Press for manipulating Argentine soccer image

By Nuri Vallbona

The Associated Press (AP) severed ties with a freelance photographer after he manipulated a photo of children playing soccer near the town of Mendoza, Argentina, in order to eliminate his shadow from the image, according to a July 11 memo from AP director of photography Santiago Lyon, reported Poynter.org.

Lyon said Miguel Tovar, a Mexico-based shooter on assignment to cover the Copa America soccer tournament in Argentina, “cloned some dust from one part of a feature photo to another in order to obscure his own shadow.” The image was part of a series of feature photos of children playing soccer in a dirt field. “An alert photo editor noticed that the pattern on the dust repeated itself in an unlikely way and subsequent investigations revealed the visual fraud,” wrote Lyon. “There is no indication that Tovar’s other images were manipulated.”

Visual journalist and instructor Charles Apple, writing for the American Copy Editors Society, noted that it was a shame Tovar altered the image because he created doubt regarding some of his other photos even though the photographer captured some fine images. The Australian daily newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald displayed a slide show of Tovar's work, with the offending image the second in the series.

AP's statement of news values and principles states: “AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or digitally manipulate the content of a photograph in any way. The content of a photograph must not be altered in Photoshop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph.”

The AP memo also said that the photographer’s images were removed from its licensing division, reported PopPhoto.com. “Our reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions such as the one described above,” said Lyon. “However, we have severed all relations with Tovar and removed him from the assignment. He will not work for the AP again in any capacity.”

Apple also referred to another case in 2010 of a sports image altered by a photographer, this time a Getty Image of a winner of a golf tournament that was caught by a Dallas Morning News reporter.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.