The Associated Press is eliminating from its archive seven Cuban government handout photos of Fidel Castro after determining some were digitally altered to remove what appears to be a hearing aid from the retired leader's ear.
The images in question were released through the government-run Estudios Revolucion, an entity that distributes photos of Cuba's top leadership, during a recent Latin America and Caribbean summit in Havana. They were retransmitted by the AP and other international news organisations to clients around the world.
"We have concluded that a number of official photographs of Fidel Castro were manipulated. Removing elements from a photograph is entirely unacceptable and is in clear violation of AP's standards," said AP vice president and director of photography Santiago Lyon.
The AP informed Cuban officials of its decision regarding the photos, but there was no public reaction or comment.
Under AP standards, photos must depict reality and cannot be manipulated to add or subtract elements that alter that reality. The news agency's policy is to use handout photographs only when there is no other option, and to scrutinise them carefully for possible manipulation.
It was during such screening that photo editors noted an anomaly in a picture that showed Castro meeting with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in Havana on January 29.
The AP acquired the original, high-resolution image files from the photographer, Alex Castro, the former leader's son. The original clearly showed a thin wire snaking into Fidel Castro's ear that was missing from the altered photo released through Estudios Revolucion.
The AP did not transmit the Correa photograph or any official photos of Castro handed out subsequent to it to customers. But a review of other handout images, including a photograph of Castro meeting with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, showed similar signs of manipulation. The photo was transmitted by the AP, as well as by other news organisations.
Photographs published as recently as a month earlier showed a thin, transparent device in Castro's ear, believed to be a hearing aid.
Alex Castro has taken most of the pictures of his 87-year-old father that have been released since a near-fatal illness forced him from office in 2006. The younger Castro immediately provided the original unaltered image files when the AP requested them and told the AP he was unaware they had been manipulated prior to their distribution.
His pictures were first submitted to Estudios Revolucion, then redistributed through other official Cuban news outlets.
In addition to eliminating the seven images, the AP is conducting a review of all Cuban handout pictures of Castro from recent years, about 150 images in all.