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Championing Rohingya Stories, Exploiting Rohingya Journalists
The case of Reuters and Poppy McPherson
In recent exposés, we've delved into the questionable practices that mainstream media organisations, such as Reuters, have been perpetuating. Our narratives have revolved around several Rohingya photojournalists who found themselves in the clutches of deceptive tactics deployed by these media giants. Their work was exploited, and the rights to their valuable content were swept away under misleading pretences. Today, we return to this saga with yet another instance, this time spotlighting Rohingya refugee Mohammed Zonaid.
Poppy McPherson of Reuters
Zonaid, much like Salim, was enticed by the illusion of recognition. When Reuters journalist Poppy McPherson, known for her extensive and important coverage of the Rohingya crisis, approached him, he readily agreed to share his video. Zonaid didn't ask for financial compensation, naively trusting that the credit itself would be reward enough from a journalist of her stature. Little did he know that his trust would be betrayed.
Upon sharing his work, he was presented with a familiar agreement, similar to the one given to Salim, essentially giving exploitation rights to his content to Reuters. Misled by the offer of acknowledgement for his work, Zonaid, too, failed to grasp the implications of this agreement.
More than eighteen months elapsed, and the promised credit never materialised. Seeking recompense for his work, Zonaid contacted Poppy McPherson again, demanding the due credit. She responded by replying to her original tweet, mentioning Zonaid in the tweet - a half-hearted attempt at fulfilling her promise, considering replies on Twitter seldom gather the same attention as the original post. And certainly not one posted one and a half years later!
Zonaid, left feeling duped, asked for financial compensation since his credit was effectively ignored. McPherson turned down his request but dangled the carrot of a future assignment with Reuters in front of him. Months have passed since then, and no such assignment has materialised.
In Zonaid's Words
"I am Mohammed Zonaid, a Rohingya photojournalist who has dedicated my life to documenting the plight of my people and shedding light on the challenges we face," he began in a series of WhatsApp messages to me. Zonaid provided a multitude of screenshots that documented his exchanges with Reuters’ Poppy McPherson. Zonaid expressed his disappointment at what he perceived to be questionable professional conduct and breach of trust. "Regrettably, when the content was published, I discovered that the agreed-upon credit was not given," he wrote. "Despite my explicit request and the significance of the content, which received substantial attention and views (almost 100k), I was disheartened to witness a breach of our agreement."
His words echo the reality of exploitation faced by Rohingya refugees at the hands of reputable media organisations, highlighting the stark contrast between their professed adherence to professional ethics and the exploitative practices they carry out behind the scenes. He ended his statement with a plea, urging for transparency, fairness, and respect in journalism.
The approach adopted by Reuters and its journalists seems to largely gloss over one crucial detail during their initial engagements with videographers. It's not particularly surprising, when you think about it - after all, how many video makers would be thrilled to hear, "We like your video. We want to use it and we might sell it, but we won't pay you for it. You ok with that"? It's hardly the proposition of a lifetime, is it?
Instead, Reuters seems to prefer a subtler strategy, one that involves the fine art of "small print". Don't make it too obvious, just subtly tuck away the exploitation bit in jargon and legal lingo.
So it is that in the conversation with photographers/videographers, a critical element stays conveniently undisclosed until after the individual has agreed to part with their work - the notorious 'terms and conditions' agreement that enables Reuters to sell and distribute the content. This document, sent to Zonaid after he had already committed his video, stated: "You, (copyright owner), Mohammed Zonaid... agree that Reuters may publish and distribute the Content to Reuters’ customers, which include other news organisations around the world, for their further use, display, and publication."
This blanket agreement conveniently grants Reuters a wide-ranging carte blanche. It continues: "Specifically, you give Reuters and its licensees the perpetual right to publish, republish, display, edit, prepare derivative works of, and distribute the Content, in any form throughout the world, in all languages, and in all media, whether now known or hereafter devised."
Now, let's pause here for a moment. This agreement essentially offers Reuters unlimited access to the content, enabling it to be used and reused in any context, on any platform, and at any point in the future. It's certainly comprehensive, but one has to wonder - where does this leave the original creator? With their work exploited and in Zonaid’s case uncredited, the individuals are left with little more than a hollow promise and a bitter taste of exploitation.
Where Do We Go From Here?
These disturbing accounts by Salim and Zonaid reveal a concerning pattern, a business model that mainstream media organisations such as Reuters have been profiting from at the expense of Rohingya photojournalists and no doubt others. The exploitation of these individuals isn't just about flouting ethical codes of conduct. It strikes at the heart of journalistic integrity and the principle of fairness.
Efforts to obtain a response from Poppy McPherson were fruitless. This is because McPherson probably knows that it looks bad. And it looks bad because it is bad. And nothing she can say is going to make their current business model look any less bad. When the unethical treatment of collaborators becomes a method of operation, it undeniably leaves a blemish on the face of journalistic integrity.
As we bring these stories to light, it becomes clear that this is not merely an isolated incident but a systemic issue that needs to be addressed. A dialogue must be initiated to safeguard the interests of these hardworking individuals who, against all odds, strive to bring the truth about their circumstances to the world. It is high time for Reuters, and other media organisations employing similar practices, to dispense with this business model, treat collaborators fairly, and uphold the integrity of journalism.