AFP, Reuters take heat after censoring image of French president

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News organizations Reuters and Agence France-Presse are facing accusations of self-censorship after both issued a retraction of a photo showing French president Francois Hollande that some considered to be unflattering.

Agence France-Presse asked news organizations to stop using this image of French President Fran├žois Hollande on Wednesday. (Photo: AFP/Pool)

Agence France-Presse asked news organizations to stop using this image of French President Fran├žois Hollande on Wednesday. (Photo: AFP/Pool)

Reuters watchdog blog The Baron described the photo as showing Hollande “trimming formlessly during a visit on Tuesday to a school” in northern France.

AFP initially made the pool photo available on its image distribution service for media clients, but later asked customers to stop using the photo.

“Please take it off your systems,” AFP wrote in a kill notice distributed to clients. “We are sorry for any inconvenience and thank you for your co-operation.”

In a blog entry published on Thursday, AFP’s global news director Philippe Massonett admitted the agency retracted the photo because it was considered unflattering.

“AFP has a rule not to transmit images that gratuitously ridicule people,” Msasonett wrote. “We never publish something purely for its shock value or to mock someone.”

AFP rejected accusations posted on social media that Hollande’s office asked the news agency to withdraw the image.

Reuters initially transmitted AFP’s pool photo to media clients on Wednesday before it, too, ordered news organizations not to use the image. Reuters’ parent company Thomson Reuters told The Guardian it was “looking into the issue” and “would respond shortly.”

Reuters may have retracted the image at AFP’s request. On Twitter, Reuters digital executive editor Jim Roberts noted that AFP had caused a “huge stir” by demanding the retraction, though Roberts failed to note that Reuters, too, asked clients to stop using the photo.

The photo was subjected to the Streisand effect after news organizations began covering the retraction. It was re-posted to Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites throughout the day on Wednesday.