Venezuela to Sue El Pais over Fake Photo of Hugo Chavez?

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One of at least two statements El Pais has released about the fake photo. (Credit: El Pais, screenshot)

Will El Pais‘ fake photo of Hugo Chavez end in two lawsuits?

As iMediaEthics wrote yesterday, El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, apologized after publishing on its front page and online a photo of a man with a tube in his mouth. The man in the photograph looked to be in a hospital and someone appeared to be holding the tube in his mouth. But, it turned out the photo, which El Pais purchased from Gtres Online, could be a screenshot from a 2008 YouTube video.

According to France24, the Venezuelan government said it plans to sue El Pais over the phony image purporting to show Chavez, who recently had surgery for cancer. The Associated Press added more specifics about the impending lawsuit, over what foreign minister Elias Jaua described as the photo’s having “seriously offended the president’s dignity” :

“Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Thursday night in a telephone call broadcast on state television that the government instructed its ambassador in Spain, Bernardo Alvarez, to work with the attorney general in preparing the case.”

Further, Venezuela Information Minister Ernesto Villegas called the fake photo a “shameful page in international journalism,” according to the Wall Street Journal.  And Venezuela’s government suggested the photo was a political move, as France24 added Venezuela’s “government says it has never been more transparent. It described El Pais’s publication of the picture – a screengrab from an unrelated 2008 video – as part of efforts by far-right political forces to attack Chavez’s self-styled revolution.”

The planned lawsuit against El Pais won’t be the only legal action in the works. Gtres Online, the agency that sold the photo to El Pais, reportedly told El Pais it’s going to “take legal action” after being tricked by the photo.  El Pais also has issued another statement explaining that it had asked Gtres about the authenticity of the photo.   According to a (rough) Google Translate, Gtres told the newspaper that “the picture was taken seven days before” by someone “attending” Chavez, and El Pais didn’t initially give the information to readers because of Gtres’ request to protect that source.

As iMediaEthics wrote yesterday, Gtres also approached the Associated Press and Spanish newspaper El Mundo about the photo, but they didn’t buy it.

While iMediaEthics didn’t get a response from the Associated Press’s Paul Colford to our question last night about why the AP opted against the photo, AP vice president and director of photography is quoted as saying in the AP’s own story about the photo that it didn’t buy the photo “because of serious concerns over medical privacy issues as well as the authenticity and provenance of the image.”

iMediaEthics has written to Gtres asking

  • For more information about its source and how it ended up with the photo
  • For more information about its planned lawsuit
  • If it knows if it will be named in Venezuela’s lawsuit

An email has also been sent to El Pais’ ombudsman asking:

  • Has El Pais heard from the government about this lawsuit?
  • Did El Pais apologize directly or personally to the government/Chavez’s representatives when it learned the photo was false?
  • Is El Pais involved in Gtres planned legal action against its source?

We’ll update with any responses.

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Venezuela to Sue El Pais over Fake Photo of Hugo Chavez?

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