Guardian airbrushes censorship of New York Times photo in Pakistan

Our colleague Tamar Sternthal recently reported the following:

One year ago, when HaMevaser, an ultra-Orthodox newspaper in Israel not well-known outside that community, altered a page-three photograph to eliminate Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany from a photograph of world leaders, The New York Times dedicated over 500 words and two photographs (the original and the altered images) to the episode. In the 11-paragraph, page-four article (“Newspaper in Israel Scrubs Women From a Photo of Paris Unity Rally,” Jan. 13, 2015), then Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren provided great detail about the deletion, describing it as prompting “snickers” and “satire,” of being a “sin,” of causing “embarass[ment]” and of amounting to “religious extremism”:

The New York Times wasn’t alone.

The Guardian, Independent, Telegraph and Daily Mail all covered the story, ‘snickering’ at the misogynistic editorial decision at the obscure Haredi paper to airbrush Merkel.


Guardian, Jan. 14, 2015

In her post, Sternthal then fast forwards a year to a story in The Washington Post (on Jan. 29, 2016) reporting that Pakistan’s Express Tribune, which publishes the international edition of the New York Times locally, engaged in an ‘airbrush’ of its own.

As in many Islamic countries, it’s common to see young men walking down the streets here in Pakistan holding hands or warmly greeting each other with a hug. But on Friday, the local publisher of the International New York Times decided a photograph of a man in China giving his boyfriend a kiss on the cheek was too graphic for Pakistani readers.

For the second time this month, Pakistan’s Express Tribune, which partners with and publishes the international edition of the New York Times locally, censored a front-page article or photograph. Instead of running the photograph, New York Times subscribers in Pakistan woke up to find a huge blank space on their paper.

“This picture was removed by our publishing alliance in Pakistan,” a caption stated below the 8-inch by 12-inch blank space. “The International New York Times and its editorial staff had no role in its removal.”

The photograph was supposed to accompany a Times story, written by Edward Wong and Vanessa Piao, about a first-of-its kind lawsuit in China challenging that country’s prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Here’s a tweet by the photographer showing that the photo, which ran in other editions of the International New York Times, was censored in the Pakistani edition.

new pic

Sternthal informs us that, so far, New York Times editors haven’t commented on the photograph removed from the front-page of its international edition in Pakistan.

Tellingly, the Guardian (as with the Independent, Telegraph and Daily Mail) has thus far similarly avoided reporting on the story – one highly embarrassing to the NYT – on the censoring of a photo likely to offend homophobic readers in Pakistan.

The decision of UK news sites such as the Guardian to highlight censorship in an obscure Israeli paper while failing to cover a similar act of censorship in a major international news outlet again reveals editors’ and reporters’ egregious double standards. 

UPDATE: The headline of this post was revised to more accurately reflect the story

13 replies »

  1. One rule for Israel, another for everyone else. Julius Streicher of Der Sturmer would kiss the publisher of the NYT on both cheeks.

  2. But you should expect nothing more from the Guardian and the Indy. It’s annoying. It’s frustrating. But we need to do more to make sure that our local, regional and national political leadership, our religious leaders and the public at large are made aware of these double standards. Every reader of this blog could start by simply forwarding a copy of this to his/her MP and asking for him/her to comment on it and to forward it to the Culture Secretary.

    • What do you think the Culture Secretary is going to do about an independently owned media outlet deciding its own editorial line? Introduce state regulation of the press like all those other ‘democracies’ in the Middle East?

      • You’re quite right, Gabriel. I wasn’t looking for a response from the Culture Secretary. I simply wanted to ensure that he and other ‘movers and shakers’ were aware of these double-standards and perhaps make a small start towards changing their perception of these publications. But I’m open to any ideas which you and others may have for trying to change attitudes.

        • My main idea is that we just be grateful to live in a democratic society with a free press, even if that requires us to adopt a robust attitude when the media says things we dislike (just as others have to be robust when we say things they dislike).