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Eastern Ghouta: All AFP photos are verified and authenticated
By Christian Chaise, AFP Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
It is impossible to portray war without showing at least some of its impact on people on the ground. Whatever the force of the words that we may choose to write, words alone cannot bear witness to the human drama and tragedy of war to the same extent as images. This is about conveying news, not sensationalism. To refuse to show these images would be a dereliction of our mission and our duty to inform.
It should be noted that we do not distribute all of the photographs that we receive from Syria, far from it. We do not distribute those we view as too graphic, while remaining conscious that that is a subjective judgement. Our editors go through a careful selection process, with the aim of only showing those images that testify to the situation within certain parameters.
All of the images that AFP has distributed from our photo stringers in Eastern Ghouta (and more generally from Syria) are painstakingly verified and authenticated by our photo editing desk in Nicosia. For each photo, we systematically verify the metadata, which shows exactly when the picture was taken. We can see which kind of camera was used to take the picture, checking that against the equipment we know our stringers use. In case of any doubt, our editors, who are in daily contact with our Syrian stringers via WhatsApp, ask the necessary questions. If the right answers aren't forthcoming, we don't use the picture. We keep close track of the locations of our stringers, having been in constant touch with them for a long time. We know with certainty, for instance, that our stringers filing from Eastern Ghouta are indeed there because the enclave has been under siege for years and its residents cannot leave. We know for sure that Abdulmonam Eassa, for example, is in Hammuriyeh.
As regards the recruitment and training of the stringers covering the conflict in Syria for us, AFP has long experience in this field. We began training young Syrian journalists not long after the start of the conflict, and today we have an unrivalled network of local correspondents throughout the country. We do not ask these stringers for their political views. We do ask that their work conform to strict professional standards, using long-distance training to equip them with an understanding of our demands and expectations. Our stringers in Eastern Ghouta and the rest of Syria have been working for us, in some cases, for several years and have proved themselves. We know them. Some of them have seen their work acclaimed with international prizes.
In conclusion, let me stress that we cover both sides of the conflict. We equally cover the impact of this war on people living in zones controlled by the government. We are among the few media organisations with a bureau in the capital Damascus. Being present on both sides allows us to narrate the story of this war in a balanced way.