Syria furnishes latest case study in bad authoritarian photoshopping

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

Not long after the Chinese government created a minor uproar among citizens when it produced a transparently photoshopped image of a trio of officials purportedly inspecting a road-construction project, we have a new entry from the Department of Lousy Authoritarian Regime Photoshop, courtesy of Syria's official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

Syria's beleaguered president Bashar al-Assad last week fired the governor of the restive city of Hama, reportedly over concerns the governor was too accommodating to anti-regime demonstrators staging peaceful protests in the city.

So on Monday, SANA informs us, Assad—ever the dutiful strongman—purported to swear in his new choice to rule Hama, Anas Abdul-Razzaq Na-em, providing this notably odd photo of the two leaders:

Enterprising journalists and bloggers soon spotted key discrepancies--such as the telltale way that the table between the two men appears to cast an improbably glossy shadow on the surface of an oriental rug, and eerie way that Na-em casts no shadow in his surroundings whatsoever. The UK Guardian solicited an opinion from its "imaging expert" Drew McCoy, who noted further that "two pictures may have been merged to make it seem like the men are in the same room, with the one on the right positioned fractionally higher than the one on the left. This becomes clearer when you look closely at the floor, which is distorted. The right hand side of the picture has been stretched downwards into place to line up with the left side (which is not distorted)."

The Washington Post noted further that one of Assad's shoes "appears to be sticking out in front of the table leg," even though the rest of his body is position behind the table leg. And McCoy's counterpart at the Post, Dan Murano, seconds McCoy's judgment that a closer examination of both figures shows few of the signature traces that actual humans display when actually captured on film--such as stray hairs. Instead, the figures of both men have perfectly unruffled outlines. The photo, Murano concluded, "looks as if someone selected the the bodies and heads with the lasso tool and then adjusted the contrast and brightness, leaving a black outline at the tool's selection boundary."

But Syria's state-run news service treated all serenely and obliviously as the real article. "Later, President al-Assad received Na'em and instructed him with his directives, wishing him success in his duties," SANA elaborated, adding a vivid sense of interpersonal interaction between the two men that the image conspicuously lacked.

It wasn't immediately clear if SANA's photo editors, or officials with the Assad regime, are responsible for the clumsy image-doctoring job.

SANA credits the two-lined article and photo to the work of "H. Zain/Ghossoun."

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Syrian embassy in Washington yesterday e-mailed his contacts that he's quitting.