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The importance of getting photo captions right

Photographs of starving children always cause controversy. Pictures of starving children with captions stating they’re from countries that they’re not cause even more controversy.

The caption to this image originally said incorrectly that the child was from Ethiopia 'the hungriest place on earth'
The caption to this image originally said incorrectly that the child was from Ethiopia ‘the hungriest place on earth’


Last week Save the Children launched – No Child Born to Die – our campaign to ensure that every child gets the chance to fulfil their potential, wherever they’re born.

The launch day was huge. Alexandra Burke, Natasha Kaplinsky, Amanda Mealing, Edith Bowman, Piers Morgan, Stephen Fry and many more celebs were supporting our campaign and we had coverage across most of the major news outlets. Coverage even spread across the Pacific and was picked up by Australian press!

Fantastic! Not so fantastic. The first I knew of the Australian press covering our campaign was an email from the Ethiopian Embassy alerting me to a wrongly captioned photo of a starving child being used alongside a mention of Save the Children’s campaign. The photo was of a malnourished southern Sudanese child but the caption read ‘A two year old girl from Ethiopia, the ‘hungriest place on earth….’ Not surprisingly the Ethiopian government weren’t happy and had already spoken to my colleagues in Addis Ababa in no uncertain terms about it.

It wasn’t a Save the Children photo and it wasn’t supplied by us but the repercussions on Save the Children’s work in Ethiopia and our relationship with the government were huge.

A couple of days spent finding the correct contact to inform both the newspaper and the photo wire service to make the appropriate changes have resulted in the caption being corrected.

It goes to show that, in our age of global digital media, those being reported on in far-flung areas of the world are no longer disconnected from what we depict. This means that we’re all held much more to account on how we report on others’ lives.

We can no longer print things without assuming those we’ve written about or photographed won’t read or see what’s been printed. It makes it even more important that everything we say about those we portray is accurate and honest.

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