POYi Issues Statement On Paolo Pellegrin's Pictures, Affirm Award

Feb 27, 2013 Ethics
Today a statement from POYi says, "The spirit of Pictures of the Year International is to honor photojournalists and celebrate their outstanding documentary photography. We do not probe for reasons to disqualify work."
Today a statement from POYi says, "The spirit of Pictures of the Year International is to honor photojournalists and celebrate their outstanding documentary photography. We do not probe for reasons to disqualify work."

By Donald R. Winslow

COLUMBIA, MO (February 27, 2013) – The Pictures of the Year International director has issued a statement today addressing the Paolo Pellegrin photography and caption controversy, waiting until last night to issue their findings after POYi finished announcing all of their category winners for this year.

POYi director Rick Shaw has posted a brief statement at the bottom of Pellegrin's winning entry, with a link to a Web page where the full POYi statement has been published. POYi's statement on the matter is followed by a response from Pellegrin, which is then followed by a statement from BagNewsNotes, the blog that made the initial allegations of plagiarism and misrepresentation against the Magnum photographer.

POYi's statement says: 

"The spirit of Pictures of the Year International is to honor photojournalists and celebrate their outstanding documentary photography. We do not probe for reasons to disqualify work. POY understands that errors may occur in captions submitted by photographers. We are happy to make corrections and acknowledge the errors. Story summaries and captions are 'published' when posted on the POY website. Any misunderstanding regarding self-authorship for 'published' captions or story summaries will be corrected by the photographer. POY affirms the awards."

Following POYi's award affirmation comes a statement from Pellegrin, which is followed by a statement by Michael Shaw [no relation], the publisher of BagNewsNotes. 

In the BagNewsNotes statement, Shaw reaffirms his contention that "We are not reporters." He says that those who have criticized him for not reaching out to Pellegrin for a response before BagNewsNotes published its serious accusations are "missing the larger point," and are "fundamentally misunderstanding our mission: subjective analysis." 

"It was never our goal to hurt Mr. Pellegrin’s career or his entry in POY or WPP," Shaw says of his BagNewsNotes blog. He also said, "This discussion needs to take place via exchange and debate that is not prosecutorial in tone and gives space to all voices." 

Shaw's statement today apparently reflects a change in attitude from the day the initial blog was published, because at that time Shaw and his co-authors made the intentional decision to not contact Pellegrin for comment, but to publish only their accusations (or "subjective analysis" as they call it) without an opportunity for the photographer or his agency to respond. For photojournalists and their editors, this might be difficult to resolve given the fact that the BagNewsNotes accusation of plagiarism and misrepresentation, the cardinal sins of journalism, somehow did not also carry with them what Shaw calls a "prosecutorial tone."

Earlier this week, World Press Photo issued a statement addressing Pellegrin's winning photographs and captions. Michiel Munneke, the managing director of World Press Photo, said: "Upon reviewing the image and caption of former Marine Shane Keller in Paolo Pellegrin’s story on The Crescent that was awarded a second prize in the General News Category of the World Press Photo contest 2013, the jury is of the opinion that although a more complete and accurate introduction and captions should have been made available by the photographer, the jury was not fundamentally misled by the picture in the story or the caption that was included with it.”

So now both World Press Photos and POYi have responded, independently, to the accusations made against Pellegrin but lacking in the aftermath is a sense of vindication for the photographer, who still - in the minds of many - has not clearly explained his actions by his reply, which may be factual but missing some context.

Also left in the wake of this discussion are some unanswered questions, including the consideration as to whether there is a different "European" standard in photojournalism ethics that is not as narrow a path as the one generally defined and embraced by American photojournalists, such as the strict code that is spelled out in NPPA's Code of Ethics

San Francisco photojournalist Chuck Gathard, who shoots internationally for global clients, expressed this idea today to News Photographer magazine. 

"I think the 'European' school of thought adheres to a much more liberal code that supports - and perhaps promotes through prizes - the expression of the photographer, 'my truth,' and 'artistic expression,'" Gathard said. "We in the States adhere to a much more 'professional and objective' - dare I say conservative - code that prizes 'the truth.' Both approaches advocate, both raise passions, both can deceive. But one punishes deliberate manipulative deception, the other winks, shrugs, or says, 'get over it.'"

Link to the original BagNewsNotes blog accusing Pellegrin of misrepresentation and plagiarism.