Spain media posts Gaza photo in Sahara coverage

El País publishes apology for wrong picture


Spanish media has recently published a picture of injured children in Gaza as victims of the latest unrest that swept the Western Saharan city of Laayoune in what was seen an attempt to turn public opinion against the Moroccan government.

A picture that features victims of Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip in June 2006 was used by famous Spanish newspapers like El País, El Mundo, and the electronic El Semenal Digital to attack the Moroccan regime for targeting children in its war with the Polisario Front over the fate of Western Sahara.

The image showed two Palestinian children who had their bloody heads wrapped in gauze while one of them was screaming with pain.

According to El País, the most widely circulated in Spain, those two children were being treated of wounds they sustained during a raid by the Moroccan police on a Western Saharan refugee camps and described them as “victims of Morocco's repression.”

El País offered a special coverage of the raid on the camp housing thousands of refugees outside the town of Laayoune, annexed by Rabat in 1975 after the withdrawal of the Spanish forces.

The same picture was posted on the Polisario official website wtih the caption “Even children could not escape the Moroccan massacre” as well as French and Spanish websites that support Saharan separatists and other European media outlets, the French-speaking Moroccan news website Big Brother reported.

Moroccan media accused Spain of trying to tarnish Morocco’s image in the International Community and the Moroccan Ministry of Communication issued a statement condemning the “falsification of facts” by Spanish media.

Publishing the photo as part of the Western Sahara conflict is a mistake made by the paper. That is why the paper published an apology immediately after realizing this

El País spokeswoman Rosie Rodriguez

Wrong photo

The news website Andalus Press, the mouthpiece of Arabs in Spain, contacted Rosario Pons, head of the photo department in Spain's official news agency EFE, to inquire about the picture.

According the Pons, the agency does not have a photographer in Laayoune and is, therefore, not the source of the picture. She added that the agency relied on websites and blogs of Sahrawi fighters to get pictures of the latest raid.

El País spokeswoman Rosie Rodriguez admitted that the picture posted in the Thursday issue was of two Palestinian children and that it was distributed by Reuters on June 21, 2006.

“Publishing the photo as part of the Western Sahara conflict is a mistake made by the paper,” she told AlArabiya.net in a phone interview. “That is why the paper published an apology immediately after realizing this."

The paper published an apology Friday under the title “A 2006 Gaza photo published as one from the Sahara.” In this article, the paper took full responsibility for not verifying the authenticity of the picture before publishing it.

The paper admitted that the picture was taken by Palestinian photographer Ibrahim Abu Mustafa in a Gaza hospital where the two children were being treated after an Israeli air strike on the strip.

Rodriguez added that El País was not the only paper to commit this error and that several media outlets in Spain published the same picture believing it was taken in Western Sahara.

“We have notified all the relevant bodies in both Spain and Morocco of the misunderstanding,” she concluded.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).