WPP issues statement amidst accusations of conflict of interest


posted Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM EDT

Signal by John Stanmeyer

The World Press Photo awards have yet again become a magnet for scandal, but this time of a very different sort. This year's winner, John Stanmeyer, is now facing accusations of conflicts of interest due to the fact that he has a very close relationship with one of the judges.

Stanmeyer is a founding member of the well respected photo organization VII, and he primarily works with National Geographic. However, the chair of this year's jury was Gary Knight—another founding member of VII, meaning the two have a very close relationship. According to the New York Times, Knight actually tried to recuse himself, but was not allowed to by the organization's own rules:

Mr. Knight said that although he had asked to be removed from the final judging because of his friendship and professional relationship with Mr. Stanmeyer, the World Press rules did not allow for it. He emphasized that at every level there was complete transparency. “If anything,” he said, “I was a hindrance for John getting the award, not a help.”

The close relationship between the two parties has understandably caused some concern, with people weighing in on what appears to be a case of nepotism. In turn, the attention has caused the WPP to release an official statement on the matter, saying:

World Press Photo affirms that the two-week judging process culminating in the selection of Stanmeyer’s photo was conducted according to procedures established over a 57-year history that are specifically designed to ensure the integrity of the awards.
The four chairs and 15 jurors who participated in the process acted at all times with unquestionable integrity and deliberated in a way that ensured each entry was treated fairly and equally. We deeply regret that their professional reputations and conduct may have been called into question, and we stand with them to reject any accusations of impropriety.
The World Press Photo Contest voting structure is complex and robust. It is deliberately and specifically designed to ensure that singles and stories both build strong majority support and resist majority opposition in order to progress through the multiple rounds of judging. The anonymous and confidential voting process systematically prevents any individual juror from pushing a favored image, for whatever reason, against the majority view. In addition to the voting structure, we have specific requirements for checking and declaring interests to the whole jury. These procedures are similar to those found in other major photographic awards. If you’d like in-depth details about the voting and declaration process, please read the general jury secretary’s reflections on his blog.

That link to the secretary's blog is extremely interesting if you want to drill down into just how the judging works. But the fact that all the images are anonymous, and that if a juror recognizes an image they're prohibited from saying who took it, says something about how rigorous the process is.

Obviously these accusations are very different from the photo editing ones that plagued the competition last year—but we're left wondering if such negative attention will come to be a hallmark of every WPP winner going forward.