Major News Agency Says Kensington Palace Is “Absolutely Not” a Trusted Source After Photo Debacle

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One of the world’s biggest news agencies is now reconsidering its relationship with the Prince and Princess of Wales, in the wake of the controversy over a doctored photo of Princess Kate.

Kensington Palace is no longer a trusted source, according to Phil Chetwynd, global news director of Agence France-Press, speaking Wednesday about the photo debacle on the BBC’s The Media Show.

AFP was among several agencies—including the Associated Press, Reuters, and Getty Images—that killed distribution of a family photo of Kate and her three kids due to evidence of digital manipulation of the image. The unprecedented move prompted the palace to issue a statement attributed to Kate, who confessed to “occasionally experiment[ing] with editing” and apologized for the confusion. Despite growing demands, the palace has stated it has no plans to release the original, unaltered photo.

“All the agencies validated the photo, which clearly violated our rules, because it’s actually not even well Photoshopped,” Phil said. Asked if Kensington Palace can maintain its reputation as a “trusted source” following the photo controversy, Phil said, “Absolutely not. Like with anything, when you’re let down by a source, the bar is raised and we’ve got major issues internally as to how we validate that photo. We shouldn’t have done [it], it violated our guidelines, and therefore we sent out notes to all our team at the moment to be absolutely super more vigilant about the content coming across our desk, even from what we would call trusted sources.”

The blatant Photoshop issues included retouching mistakes on Princess Charlotte’s sleeve and skirt, as well as on Kate’s jacket.

princess kate

Courtesy Kensington Palace

Talking about the line between acceptable and unacceptable photo edits, Phil said, “One thing that’s really important is that you cannot be distorting reality for the public. … The big issue here is one of trust and the lack of trust of the general public in institutions generally and in the media. So it’s extremely important that a photo does represent broadly the reality that it’s in, and therefore it is not in a sense telling some kind of lie or some kind of false truth around an event that happens.”

He also commented on the significance of a kill notification, which agencies issue to instruct their clients to remove a photo from media circulation. “It’s a big deal for an agency to issue a kill,” he explained. “It would be rare. We wouldn’t like to issue more than one a month, I would say.”

Although some photos may be killed due to copyright reasons, retracting a photo due to image manipulation is much more severe and uncommon. “To kill something on the basis of manipulation [happens] once a year, maybe. I hope less,” Phil said. “The previous kills we’ve had have been from the North Korean news agency or the Iranian news agency.”

The palace released the photo to mark the U.K.’s Mother’s Day, but the portrait also arrived amid widespread concerns over the princess’s whereabouts. Kate was last publicly seen on December 25, and has purportedly since recused herself from public duties following a “planned abdominal surgery” in January.

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