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See above the fake photo. (Credit: El Pais via AFP/Getty via Toronto Star, screenshot)

Daily Spanish newspaper El Pais ran a fake photo of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez on its front page and briefly online, the Guardian reportedAccording to Mondo Times, El Pais has a “circulation of about 2.1 million.”

The photo shows a close-up of a man’s face with someone apparently holding a breathing tube in his mouth, which is timely and believable since Chávez is “recovering from major cancer surgery and has not been seen in public for a month.” Check the photo out above.

In a statement on its website, El Pais estimated the photo was online “about a half hour” and apologized “for the injury caused.”  El Pais added it “opened an investigation to determine the circumstances of what happened and the mistakes that have been committed in the verification of photography.”   Further, El Pais suggested that it tipped readers off to its lack of confidence in the photo, writing (according to a Google Translate of the page):

“In the text accompanying the photo said that El Pais had failed to independently verify the circumstances, the place or the date on which the photograph was made”

Venezuela Information Minister Ernesto Villegas criticized El Pais‘ photo as “grotesque” and “yellow journalism” in tweets, according to the New York Times.

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The photo looks like its a screenshot from a YouTube video, the New York Times and ABC News reported. Check out the 2008-uploaded video “Intubacion de Acromegalia AMVAD.”

It was “obtained” from Gtres Online, the New York Times reported, noting that the Associated Press and Spanish newspaper El Mundo “both declined” to buy the photo from Gtres.  El Mundo said the photo was going for “30,000 euros” and that El Mundo’s director Pedro Ramirez said they didn’t buy it out of respect for Chavez’s “dignity,” according to ABC News, which translated Ramirez’s tweets.

iMediaEthics has written to El Pais ombudsman Tomàs Delclós asking

  • How much did El Pais pay for the photo?
  • How did El Pais learn the photo was fake?
  • What measures did El Pais take to verify the photo?
  • Will this incident affect El Pais‘ relationship with Gtres?
  • Because of this fake photo, will El Pais establish any new policies or efforts in verification of photos”?

An email has been sent to Gtres asking where it got the photo, how it verified it, who it offered the photo to and who accepted, and if Gtres will or has formally retracted the photo.  We’ve also asked the Associated Press for confirmation it turned down the photo and why. We’ll update with any responses.

UPDATE: 1/25/2013 5:36 PM EST: Added in that El Mundo is a Spanish newspaper

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El Pais Retracts Fake Photo of Hugo Chavez, Apologizes

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