Sunday Times Telling Freelance Photogs Not to Submit War Images From Syria

Free Syrian Army fighters run for cover as a tank shell explodes on a wall during heavy fighting in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus

Deadly sniper shot through the lens.” That’s the title of a photoblog entry published over on Reuters last week by staff photographer Goran Tomasevic, who’s covering the deadly conflict in Syria. The photo above was accompanied by the text, “A tank fired a couple of shells onto the top of the building and rubble fell down around us.”

The images offer a grim first person view into what it’s like to find oneself in the midst of the fighting. They also sparked debate over the ethics of putting photographers directly in harms way for the purpose of journalism. At least one news outlet is now taking a strong stance: The Sunday Times is reportedly refusing to receive photos from freelancers due to the risks involved.

How close exactly are photographers getting to the conflict? Well, the main series of photographs featured in Tomasevic shows two Free Syrian Army fighters being struck by sniper bullets. The photographer writes,

One moment, I heard two incoming shots. I was already aiming my camera on these two Syrian rebels. I heard the scream and saw one of them get shot. He was still alive as I was shooting but dying as he was carried away.

Free Syrian Army fighters take position just before they were hit by Syrian Army sniper fire during heavy fighting in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus

After the post was published, photography blog duckrabbit took to Twitter to question the ethics of such assignments:


Today, the Press Gazette reported that The Sunday Times has refused photos of the conflict by British freelance war photographer Rick Findler because it does “not wish to encourage freelancers to take exceptional risks.”

The paper’s foreign desk reportedly praised Findler for his images, but informed him that it has “a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great.”

The 28-year-old photographer disagrees with the policy, saying that it should be each individual photographer’s decision “to choose whether or not they take the risks.”

In addition to the risks, another reason for the policy may be responsibility. If a newspaper’s staff photographer is kidnapped by militants, then it has a responsibility to offer help. For freelancer photographers, the situation would become much murkier, and it appears that newspapers are trying to avoid such situations by eschewing freelance conflict photos altogether.

Sunday Times tells freelances not to submit photographs from Syria [PressGazette]

Thanks for sending in the tip, Sam!

Image credits: Photographs by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters and used with permission

  • Matt

    I can see not sending a staff photographer, but not taking free lance work I’m not sure about. Would they use a syrian’s camera phone photos?

    I don’t want to see people in harms way, but these are important moments for syrians. They need support, and tragic photos can bring support. Not showing the struggle can open the door for attrocities large than what they have now.

  • PhotoStorys

    …and the first and second world war’s, Korea, Malayan Emergency, Vietnam and all modern wars weren’t dangerous?

  • lidocaineus

    People should lay off the paper. Just like it’s the photographer’s decision to shoot there, it’s also the paper’s decision to publish or not publish those photos. If they don’t want them, he should either 1) find some place that will take them 2) stop shooting 3) keep shooting knowing he won’t get them published in dailies.

    It’s interesting because now we have the possibility of finding out if he’s doing it more for the money, or for more altruistic purposes.

  • Joey Duncan

    I’m pretty much right there with you. If that person chooses to be there (such as freelance) then let them. I’m not sure I want to see “gore” in the news, but understanding what is really going on, they aren’t shooting Swingline staples at each other and I’m pretty sure that’s how the rest of the world sees it. (or maybe just us?)

  • Joey Duncan

    I’ve always viewed going into a war as a decision just as you would make to go into an extreme sport, or any other incredibly dangerous profession, there are consequences but they are at your own choice. War really isn’t much different. (talking about the ability, not the gore) I’m sure there are plenty of sports where more people die from it then photographers die from being in the field.

  • kyoshinikon

    I am a press photog and this whole safety thing thing over frelancers is bs! Your job is to document what others cannot see because it is either to far or too dangerous for “civilians” to witness. As an agency you hope your photographers take safety precautions and you go out of your way to preserve your staffers by not sending them there but this environment is what some photojournalists live for. It is the nature of the job and by discouraging it it hurts everybody. Freelancers have to compete harder against staffers because they are regulated to the same environments. The social aspect is that without these photos less are prompted to push for social change. Vietnam had the public’s involvement the way it did because of the photography. Luckily the Sunday times seems to be the only one to push this far. I believe safety is very important but the nature of the job is to be put in danger and if you want the job you accept that reality…

  • 写真家

    As a fellow PJ, I agree 100%. I often think maybe, its easier to tell freelance and staff PJ no, because it’s just easier and cheaper, to grab similar shots taken by kids with Instagram off a mobile phone. The editor’s desk sleep better at night knowing they got their pictures and at no risk to journalists.

  • 写真家

    That is exactly it, easier to sleep at night using an unseen camera phone image than a professional and trained journalist. That was why during the Arab Spring last year, CNN was telling staff PJs not to leave the bureau, but then relied 80% of information coming from Twitter, iReport and social media.

  • Matt

    Hats off to you guys.
    What its worth, I hate ireport on cnn and the like.

  • Stevef

    surely the term “freelance” means the photographer is taking the decision about where he/she wishes to be and what risks they choose to take to bring the full story to the world. Without the determination and courage of war photographers we can never know the horrors of the events they record. Refusing to take their hard won images almost seems like a form of censorship.

  • arlan

    The only reason that newspapers, wire agencies and the others would not want to publish photos submitted by freelance photojournalist is monetary. The fact that once they accepted the submission of the pj, they will be bound to accept a contract with the pj and would have to give the freelance pj the same benefits like their own staff.

  • Jason Kirby

    You have a great point. A PJ makes the conscience decision to be in this line of work. If they can justify it to themselves to be there and are willing to capture the shots that speak the truth of the events then they should not be denied publication.

  • lidocaineus

    No one is denying him publication – he can publish all he wants, as well as find other venues that will accept him (other papers, other news outlets, books, magazines, self publishing, blogs). This paper is just choosing what to print and what not print.

  • earth citizen

    it is not so much a question of ethics but of responsibility and safety. ethics is more to do with the likes of the papparazo and how personal privacy are wantonly infringed upon

  • PJavenger

    You kids keep acting like you’re photojournalists. The real ones will be covering prep sports, taking portraits and covering stupid community events in the mean time.

    For what it’s worth, neither of your comments are even close to AP style.

  • Jackson

    Isn’t it a sign of the times in itself that any tom dick or harry with a mobile phone can produce pictures that are adequate (note, I did not say good) enough for major news outlets such that the photojournalist is dispensable?

    If the newspaper really needed the pictures you think they’d really reject any submissions from freelancers?

    The age of traditional photo reportage is dead. If you look at the photo projects that have won awards or garnered significant attention in recent times, they are most likely some form of stylised or posed photo essays, typically consisting of portraits.

    Instead of slamming the paper, recognise that photojournalism is not what it was. We are so saturated with conflict images, they no longer had the effect they once had in Vietnam, for example.

  • alex

    is there another reason nobody wants photos from syria?
    like for example islamist djihadists acting as so called freedom fighters against an atheist tyran?

    which side to pick?

  • dean800

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  • Alej Marex

    c`mon, let them show the truth behind the f***ing war

  • Mansgame

    Agreed. This is history and a sad chapter of it which needs to be documented. If someone is brave enough to do it (without being forced to) then they should do it. I of course am not.

  • bgrady413

    What happened to the old saying, ” If it bleeds it leads”? But more importantly like it was said before, if it is a freelancer already out there in harms way, I would like to think there should be some reward for there efforts instead of being scooped by a cell phone weilding novice. Also, and I know this is going to set off a partisan arguement, would these atrocities not be front page news with all the gore in full color five or six years ago?

  • Erin

    War photography has it’s risks. The freelancers putting themselves in harm’s way know the risks they take an usually feel the desire and the moral obligation to visually tell that story; that it is important. Ultimately it is a personal choice.

  • kyoshinikon

    And do I care? I am credentialized by the Local Sheriff’s Department with a small media agency and as such, I am a Press Photographer.

  • Senior T. Awsombroso

    If they are freelancing, I don’t see why not. No one ordered them to be there. They are doing it for career and finance. Why not celebrate their bravery? Whatever you might think of war, if it is fair enough to send a 20-year old in to battle, then it is safe enough to send an experienced camera man in.