NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097 a Seyfert galaxy
VIEW GALLERY | 62 PHOTOS
The following photographs were filed on the news wires in 2013. Some were taken within the last 12 months, while others are upwards of 150 years old, but all were relevant to the year's news cycle. Undated. This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the bright star-forming ring that surrounds the heart of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097, a Seyfert galaxy.NASA/Reuters
NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097 a Seyfert galaxy
Vatican Pope
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Sasha and Malia, stand in former South African President Nelson Mandela's cell as they listen to former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada during their tour of Robben Island Prison on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa, June 30, 2013. Leslie Robinson and Marian Robinson join them. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Sasha and Malia, stand in former South African President Nelson Mandela's cell as they listen to former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada during their tour of Robben Island Prison on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa, June 30, 2013. Leslie Robinson is pictured at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Mali Fighting
Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2013 - Thailand
AIR NEW ZEALAND HOBBIT PLANE
Spain Russia Greenpeace
APTOPIX Vatican Pope
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un waves while in a boat during his visit to the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment in the western sector of the front line, which is near Baengnyeong Island of South Korea
A blaze is seen in the demilitarized zone in this picture taken south of the DMZ in Goseong
Kazakhstan Russia Space
Caddo County Escape
Denali Landslide
Selfie
A NASA handout of an iceberg from the Pine Island Glacier separating from the Antarctica continent
Metro-North Train Derails In Bronx
H7N9 virus
Infrared handout photo of the Witch Head nebula
Mosaic Image of Saturn
ADDITION Virginia Daily Life NASA
Bremen robot duo for possible lunar mission
Very Early Animals
A 25-year-old female loggerhead turtle named Yu swims after receiving her 27th pair of prosthetic flippers at the Suma Aqualife Park in Kobe
APTOPIX Gulf Shipwreck
ITALY-SHIPPING-TOURISM-DISASTER
JAPAN-VOLCANO-ISLET
Diving torchbearers are seen during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch relay underwater Lake Baikal
drug tunnel
Bradley Manning
RUSSIA-OIL-ENERGY-PROTEST-ENVIRONMENT-SCIENCE
APTOPIX South Africa Mandela Mourning
Egypt Mummies Heart Disease
The skull of Richard III is seen in this photograph provided by the University of Leicester and received in London
YE Kenya Mall Attack
Motorist Death-Family Letters
Connecticut School Shooting
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Ape
A Washington Summer
US-KENNEDY-50YEARS-DEATH AND FUNERAL
Handout photo of a vehicle with bullet holes and broken glass shown during Bulger trial
Undated handout photo shows victim Drummer Lee Rigby, of the British Army's 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
Robert D. Corriveau
Finding Lincolns Address
TOPSHOTS 2013-SYRIA-CONFLICT
Mideast Iran Nuclear
SWITZERLAND-RUSSIA-ENVIRONMENT-ENERGY-OIL-PROTEST
A frog is captured during a lift off of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia
The final piece of the One World Trade Center spire is attached to the building by ironworkers in New York
Pipeline bombing in Homs
NASA handout photo of Columbia debris in a hanger at Kennedy Space Center
PHILIPPINES-WEATHER-HAIYAN
Roma Couple Due In court On Charges Of Abducting Four-Year-Old Girl
Handout still image of a female giant panda Ke Lin watching a panda mating video at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Panda baby named Fu Bao
Prince George Christening
27th SEA Games - Opening Ceremony
Late South African president Nelson Mandela memorial
Late South African president Nelson Mandela tribute
Lights of Christmas
Selfies Photo Gallery
Hubble image of a supernova
The following photographs were filed on the news wires in 2013. Some were taken within the last 12 months, while others
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NASA/Reuters
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Public Service or Propaganda? Top Handout Photos of 2013

Jan 08, 2014

Many images published around the world on a daily basis are not taken by news organizations or commissioned by magazines, but are instead provided by third-party vendors who are, for various reasons, closer to the source of the story.

Whether viewed as a public service or as propaganda, widely-disseminated handout images provide visual material the public would otherwise rarely see. They can also, at times, constitute a minefield for the sources and publishers working with the material.

Handouts are often provided to news organizations and media companies — by governments, event organizers, private companies — in instances where access for photographers is either denied or not possible.

These images can be used for public good. Surveillance images released by law enforcement agencies function like modern-day digital wanted posters. Other images function as tributes to those who have died, celebrating their lives and achievements. Still others nostalgically commemorate significant events of the past, or highlight the wonders of science and the natural world, or raise awareness on an under-reported issue.

Some of the most popular and widely-shared images each and every year are released through handout channels: White House photos of the president, L'Osservatore Romano images of the Pope and, often from NASA, those related to space.

Not all handout images are, in fact, simply handed out. Occasionally, there's some detective work involved in finding them. In the instance of a crime, depending on the jurisdiction in which is was committed, there may or may not be a precedent of releasing evidence photos as public record. Photo editors occasionally need to file a Freedom of Information request for images. Sometimes these requests bare fruit; sometimes not.

While the basic policy of news agencies and publishers alike is to not use a handout image if they have access to or can make their own photographs, sometimes economics, deadlines and even quality determine otherwise.

For the news agencies, issues of security and safety can lead to a reliance on handout images from places like Syria, for example, because of the size of the country and the very real dangers of covering such a chaotic and volatile civil war. The question then becomes one of who made the pictures, and is the imagery “real," i.e., untampered with by someone trying to push a particular agenda through.

“In democratic countries where there is a traditional belief that an independent view is important, we should always strive for independent media access," says AP’s Director of Photography Santiago Lyon. “Conversely, we often accept handouts from governments or states where the media freedoms are not as developed as they are in most democracies."

"Official photographs from Cuba or from North Korea offer us, I think, a rare glimpse into essentially closed governments," he adds. "Our view is that by not using those handout images, we would deprive our readers and viewers of a unique source of information.”

Publicity machines, PR organizations, educational institutions and activist organizations like Greenpeace are also players in the handout business.

News organizations — AP, Reuters, Getty — who carefully vet these images to determine authenticity and the motives of those supplying them distribute these photos and, in a sense, validate them. Handouts distributed via the news agencies do bear a warning for those who receive them: namely, that the image was provided by a third party. However, sometimes this level of transparency and accuracy is not embraced by the media organizations who receive and disseminate the material to the public.

Here, TIME presents a diverse selection of handout images from the last 12 months. Often fascinating, this abundant array of material runs the gamut from entertaining to educational, compelling to controversial.

Phil Bicker is a senior photo editor at TIME.

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