May 1996

Standard loses bottle

THE EVENING STANDARD has apologised to John Prescott MP over its manipulating a photo of him and his wife having a couple of drinks. But in the Standard, there was only half a drink.

[The manipulated photo]

In John Prescott's words: "the beer in front of me has been airbrushed out of the picture, and the bottle in front of my wife has been cropped to make it look like a champagne bottle."

The caption is: "Champagne socialist: Prescott in dinner jacket with wife Pauline and, left, his Jaguar". "The standards of the Tory press in the run-up to the election are bound to be an issue if this kind of thing goes on," Mr Prescott's statement continues, "and we intend to draw attention to such malpractice at every turn."

Alan Davidson, who took the photo, notes that "The Daily Mail a couple of weeks ago had a picture of mine, of Selwyn Gummer with his daughter eating beef canapes. They removed an arm to make the image tidier. I don't think there's a problem with that." Alan is not currently an NUJ member. "But," he continues, "changing the content of a picture to suit a line is wrong."

This is the first example known to the Freelance of electronic photo-manipulation for a clearly party-political purpose.

Manipulation of photos to produce illustrations may be legitimate: but the reader needs to be alerted to the fact that they're not looking at what the photographer was looking at.

London Freelance Branch proposes that manipulated photo-illustrations be marked with the symbol appearing at top right. (See ADM motion)

Neither Mr Prescott's office, nor that of Jack Cunningham MP, Shadow spokesperson for Heritage, found themselves able to comment on these proposals. A Department of National Heritage spokesperson said, "We would be reluctant to legislate. The Standard did apologise, and it seems that picture editors tend to feel a bit vulnerable on this point, with their credibility at stake." And, predictably, "Whether the industry wants to consider a code of conduct is a matter for the industry.".

John Prescott demanded that the Standard also print an explanation of how and why it had changed the picture, and make a donation to the Seafarers' Hardship Fund. The paper's legal department did not return calls on what action it had taken.

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