No, journalists did not stage these images to draw sympathy for migrants

Online, many people claimed that the media had doctored or misused these images in order to stir up sympathy for migrants. (The image on the left is a photo while the other images are screengrabs from a video).
Online, many people claimed that the media had doctored or misused these images in order to stir up sympathy for migrants. (The image on the left is a photo while the other images are screengrabs from a video).

Do media outlets alter images to stir up sympathy for migrants? That’s what some people have been claiming online in the past few weeks. As “proof”, they point to a photo and a video that were widely circulated on social media and that they claim were staged. Except it turns out that isn’t the case at all.

Images taken out of their context often circulate online. Many of these images claim to show migrants living off of public benefits or, worse, committing violence or even acts of terrorism. These images fuel xenophobia.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: How fake images spread racist stereotypes about migrants across the globe

Sometimes, people even accuse the media of manipulating images to stir up sympathy for migrants, as has happened multiple times in the past few weeks.

Example 1: How can a man stand in the “middle of the ocean”?

A photo posted on Facebook on August 9 shows people wearing life vests who seem to be trying to keep afloat in the water. In the same photo, there is a man with no life jacket, who appears to be standing up. The water only reaches his hips. The caption on the photo says, “There are three possibilities: he is 7 metres tall, he walks on the water like Moses or, as usual, they take us for idiots.”

This post was published on August 9 on the Laurent Asencio Facebook page. 


Since August 9, this photo has been shared more than 28,000 times. Many people have expressed doubts about its authenticity.

"All their feet can touch the ground, but one of them didn’t listen to the photographer’s instructions,” said one person in an ironic post.

“Maybe he is just on a little rock,” wrote another, sarcastically.

Many people alleged that the photo had been staged by the media to stir up sympathy for migrants.

However, if you search this photo on Google Images, then it pulls up an article published on December 19, 2015. That article includes a link to a tweet from a researcher for the human rights NGO Amnesty International, with the photo in it.

The photo’s caption says that this boat sank near Bodrum, a town in the province of Muğla in southwestern Turkey.

If you do a few more searches on Google with keywords in Turkish like "göçmen" ("migrants") and "Bodrum" and look for articles published in December 2015, then you can find the original photo in a Turkish article. The article says that the boat sank in the Aegean Sea, near Bodrum. Another article (also written in Turkish) says that the boat capsized on August 16.

If you keep searching with another word in Turkish – "kurtarma" ("rescue") – then you can find a video of these migrants being rescued. The video was made by the Turkish coastguard and published by Al-Jazeera. Interestingly, this video features the same man who is in the photo – the one who is accused of standing in the water.


Screengrab of the video published by Al-Jazeera (you can watch it in its entirety here).


It is true that the way he is standing is surprising. When interviewed by the AFP Factuel team, Bernard Barron, the president of the sea rescue station in Calais, said, “When you watch the video, you can see a piece of debris at the right of the image, which is floating. If the debris is a wood plank, like I think it is, it is possible that the man is astride it.”

Barron also said that smugglers in the Aegean Sea often use fishing boats to transport people. If these boats start taking on water, they could take several hours before actually fully capsizing.

“If that is a fishing boat and it is lying on its side, then it is also possible, depending on the depth of the water, that the man in black is standing on the hull.”

This isn’t the first time that this photo has been shared online by people who claim it is proof of media manipulation. It has popped up in many different countries, including France and Italy.


Post translated from French: “Doctored photo of a migrant shipwreck in one metre of water. Look at the guy standing. Darn journalists!”

Example 2: Did journalists stage and film a scene of migrants drowning?

Recently, a video circulated online showing several women wearing headscarves and carrying bundles in the water, just a few metres from the shore. Several people are looking down at them from the terrace of a restaurant and filming. Some of the women who are in the water suddenly go limp and start bobbing and floating along as if they were dead.

In the video, you can hear a man commenting on the scene in Czech, in an ironic tone: "Poor migrants! That’s exactly how it happens, what they show us on TV! [...] The director is filming a scene from ‘The migrants drown in the sea’. This is Crete."

This video started circulating on social media on July 31. One of the most widely shared posts was on the Czech Facebook page AntiKavárna. The text of the post raised the question of whether a drowning had been staged by a group of journalists who wanted to influence public opinion about the migration crisis.


Post published on July 31 on the AntiKavárna Facebook page. 

All across Europe, people shared this video, claiming that it had been staged. Posts appeared in many different languages. According to a count by AFP Factuel, which investigated this video, it has garnered more than 1.2 million views.

Post translated from French: “Czech journalists were caught red-handed creating a fake [film] showing the landing of a migrant boat. The media will do anything to make money and manipulate you.”


Tweet in French posted on August 8.

If you look closely, there are a few clues that can help you find out more about the video and the story behind it.

First of all, it says on the AntiKavárna Facebook group that the video was filmed by someone named Marek Chrastina in Lerapetra (located in the southeast of Crete). AFP Factuel came to the conclusion that this man did film the video. Moreover, you can find the exact place where this video was filmed thanks to Google Maps and Google Street View.

However, the scene is still strange. Why are there several people filming the women in the water? The team at AFP Factuel showed the video to several different filmmakers and fixers who live in Crete. One of them recognised the film crew and even knew the names of two of them, Giorgos Balothiaris and Eleni Vlassi.

The team at AFP Factuel contacted Vlassi. She explained that they were shooting scenes for a film about the exodus of Greeks from Turkey in 1922. She said that they wrapped up the shoot on July 24.

“The scene is supposed to take place in Turkey in 1922 when the Greeks fled the burning of Izmir,” she told AFP Factuel. “They escaped by sea and some drowned.”

In summary, this video has nothing to do with the current migration crisis.