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How the media reacted to a Photoshopped image of the Princess of Wales

How the media reacted to a Photoshopped image of the Princess of Wales

Celebrities strive for flawless looks. The goal of journalism is to report the truth. The publication of a highly anticipated photo that may have intensified a royal PR issue brought these two criteria into conflict.

Experienced photographer Paul Clarke was rowing in the rain on Sunday on the River Thames when his phone started to light up.

A picture of Catherine, Princess of Wales, and her three children was recently released by the royal family. It was ostensibly a Mother’s Day greeting from Britain, but it also arrived amid wild rumors regarding the future queen’s startling absence from the public eye since undergoing abdominal surgery in January.

Friends asked Clarke, who is skilled in photo editing and retouching, what he thought of the picture. He saw several irregularities right away.

Why did Princess Charlotte’s hand appear to be deformed by her sleeve cuff? Why did Prince Louis’s sweater have such a sharp knit against her mother’s fuzzy fingers? Were those the professional catchlights shining in the family’s eyes in a purportedly Prince William-taken picture? In a swiftly becoming popular social media post, Clarke pointed out that the image had “many… manipulations easily visible.”

“What *were* they thinking?” he asked in addition.

After the palace photographs went viral, major news wire providers including Getty Images, Agence France-Presse, and the Associated Press asked their customers not to use them for fear that the image had been changed against their ethical standards. This happened within hours. Catherine also expressed regret on Monday, saying in an official statement that she had “experimented[ed] with editing, like many amateur photographers.”

It also made others wonder whether Kensington Palace’s inept attempt at crisis PR, intended to calm growing fears and debunking outlandish conspiracy theories about Catherine (who last appeared in public on Christmas Day), had made matters worse.

“What were they thinking?” asked royal historian Sally Bedell Smith once again. “It does create a fairly large credibility problem if, as speculated, the photo was altered fairly significantly.”

However, Clarke believes the credibility concern is incorrect since he sees “ineptitude” rather than conspiracy. Why wouldn’t the royal family wish to alter a photo? “Everyone wants to see pictures of their kids grinning.”

He posed the question of whether media sources were too eager to disseminate information to the general public, or, alternatively, too eager to portray an overly idealized image as news.

Images used in news publications must accurately portray reality and not have been altered through post-production using Photoshop or other editing tools, according to journalistic standards. Additionally, editors need to confirm the authenticity of images obtained in ambiguous situations. For instance, pixel-by-pixel analysis of photos taken during the Ukrainian War has been done to look for any deception.

Additionally, pointing out artificial intelligence-generated photographs without properly tagging them has developed into a virtual cottage business in the media.

However, Photoshopping is not just acceptable but often expected in the VIP world that the royal family lives in.

When it comes to photography, fashion magazines and celebrity-focused publications don’t follow the same guidelines as journalistic organizations. They regularly Photoshop their people for cover shoots and features to promote an idealized lifestyle.

TV Guide transplanted the head of actress Oprah Winfrey onto the more slender body of actress Ann-Margret in 1989. In a 2009 photo, Complex magazine cropped Kim Kardashian’s hips and waist.

Lena Dunham recounted to Bill Simmons of Grantland that during her 2014 cover photo, Vogue “smoothed a line here, and shaved a line on my neck,” but she also said that she felt “completely respected.” (She remarked, “It felt gross,” when Jezebel released the raw photos.)

A number of celebrities have criticized publications for excessive picture editing: A British GQ cover photo “reduced the size of my legs by about a third,” Kate Winslet said to the BBC in 2003.

However, identical technology is now accessible to the typical Facebook user who simply wants a more attractive profile photo thanks to our phones and laptops. The princess has admitted to committing this very human transgression; a royal source described it as “an innocent, naive mistake” that the public will readily overlook.

Dickie Arbiter, a former spokesperson for Queen Elizabeth II, stated that “she owned up to it,” which he claimed was “more than the photo agencies did.” Photo agencies didn’t verify, therefore it was a real error that was repeated. They just killed it a few hours after they posted the photo.

In a long explanation, the AP explained that its “photo kill” order forbade any digitally changed or altered photographs other than simple cropping or color adjustments that did not change the basic setting of the shot.

Changes that significantly modify the original scene in terms of density, contrast, color, and saturation levels are unacceptable, according to the AP. “Digitally blurring or eliminating backgrounds through aggressive toning or burning down are not recommended.” Additionally, the AP forbids the elimination of “red eye.”

In a similar vein, Reuters claimed that their “Handbook of Journalism” only permits restricted Photoshop usage. According to the news agency, “we utilize only a small portion of its potential capability to format our pictures, crop and size them, and balance the tone and color.”

Susan Keith, a Rutgers University professor of journalism and media studies, praised these guidelines.

“I understand the impulse to try to make sure the public knows what they’re seeing in this moment of disinformation and misinformation,” she remarked. “The core of what these news organizations do is that.”

Keith said, “The news agencies sent Kensington Palace a serious message about their commitment to transparency and accuracy by removing the royal photos from circulation.”

The AP seldom removes a picture, but it doesn’t think twice about doing so when the validity of an image is called into doubt. When editors discovered that the photographer had altered the picture to hide his own shadow, it destroyed a picture in 2011. Director of photography Santiago Lyon described the event as “deliberate and misleading” in a message to workers, as reported by Poynter.