Associated Press Tenders Apology to Commander on False Captions

Feb 12th, 2009

12th Feb: THE Associated Press (AP), in a personal note of apology, tendered to Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, Commander of the Army over their publication of a series of misleading photo captions after a recent tour to Mullaittivu, assures that such unintentional mistakes would not be repeated since it is a violation of AP’s reporting standards.

The AP on 27th January 2009 in a series of Mullaittivu photos carried inaccurate, false and misleading captions saying “Army artillery shells fired into a Safe Zone killed scores of civilians and injured at least 300 more” and “Sri Lankan military shelled a hospital and a village inside the Safe Zone”. However, the AP later retracted those captions.

Here is the full text of the apology, sent by Colombo’s AP Bureau Chief Mr. Ravi Nessman to the Commander of the Army on 29th January 2009.

“Dear Gen. Fonseka,

I would like to apologize for a series of photo captions that were filed in error under photographs taken by Associated Press photographer Gemunu Amarasinghe from Mullaittivu and to explain how the situation occurred.

Mr. Amarasinghe, who you graciously allowed to take part in the media facility to the north, quickly filed the photos along with brief captions explaining what was in each picture to our photo desk in New Delhi from Anuradhapura air base as we waited for the plane to take us back to Colombo. The photo editors in New Delhi, on their own initiative, added a second sentence to the caption carrying the claim that more than 300 civilians have been wounded and scores killed in the fighting. They did not put the Army denial in there. That appears to be a violation of AP’s reporting standards, which require us to present both sides to any story. In addition, that sentence did not bear any relation to the scenes depicted in the photos.

Unfortunately, neither Mr. Amarasinghe nor I knew this was occurring in New Delhi. On Wednesday, military spokesman, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara called us and immediately demanded the mistake be corrected. That was the first time we were made aware of the situation. As the brigadier I’m sure will confirm, we immediately took action. We called our photo editors in Delhi and our photo desk in Tokyo and they immediately reissued all the photos with a new caption including the Army’s side of the story. I then informed Brig. Nanayakkara of our actions. In addition, we then sent an e-mail to all our photo editors and to all our text editors across Asia telling them that the conflict situation here was sensitive and they need to be extra careful to avoid any such mistakes in the future.

I would like to personally apologize for this error. While we cannot undue the damage done, know that it was an unintentional mistake that we intend not to make again.

Thank you for your understanding,”

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One comment
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  1. I think AP will have to keep on apologising all the time. Your Pro ltte stand is obvious. I think your reporters have to be fair and just,accountable. Pointless making apologies.

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