Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A more subtle form of news photo bias

There are a number of countries that grow and harvest olives. Greece, Jordan, the US, Israel and Chile all market their olive products. In 2005, seven countries accounted for 90% of all olive oil production, including Spain, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Syria, Turkey and Tunisia.

But if you search for photos of "olives" in Daylife, which aggregates wire service photos from AP, Reuters, Getty Images, Demotix and others, you see only one place where olives are being harvested.

The last 90 photos or so all show Palestinian Arabs harvesting olives, or (in the case of Getty Images) IDF soldiers taking pictures of trees that were "cut down by Jewish settlers from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar in the northern West Bank" - without even the word "allegedly."

Most of the pictures are simply straight photos of harvesting, or of families helping the harvesters.

For the exception that proves the rule, here is a photo of Tunisians picking olives that was published two months ago - but the picture was taken in 2007.

How come only Palestinian Arab olive harvesters warrant so many news photos?

The reason is clear: olives are a symbol of how they, and they alone, are connected to the land.

Jews who have harvested olives for three millennia are considered outsiders when they pick olives in their own land - somehow they are not authentic, the news services believe. Even though we can find olive presses that are thousands of years old in ancient Jewish cities. That doesn't matter - only one people have the right to pick olives in a photogenic way, and if Jews are mentioned at all, it is with the implicit of explicit accusation that they are working to destroy the true owners of all the olive trees in the Middle East.