The Guardian's readers' editor has explained why the newspaper chose to use an 18-month old photo of Peter Hain to illustrate a story about Hain last week. The newspaper couldn't find an adequate photo of Hain looking 'under pressure' taken amid his deputy leadership financing fiasco. The readers' editor quote a Guardian colleague:
"As a rule, we prefer the news pages to use photographs which are contemporaneous to the events they describe. But if these are not available, I think file pictures can be legitimate if they help us communicate with the reader, and if they are relevant and not misleading."
There is a difference between communicating to the reader a sense of Hain under pressure by using an old photo, and communicating to the reader what Hain actually looked like amid the fiasco. In fact The Guardian could only find contemporary photos of him looking relaxed, but this didn't fit the story The Guardian along with other media chose to run with. Who is The Guardian to choose how Hain should look? This appears the thin end of the wedge in terms of accuracy in news reporting. As editors make decisions about what counts as representation, where would the limits lie? Clearly photos of UK troops under fire in Afghanistan in 1878 couldn't be used to 'communicate with the reader' the situation in 2008, but could photos of UK troops 'under fire' from the early stages of the 2003 Iraq War be used to illustrate UK troops under fire this week? Does this happen with other news organisations?