Leading Article: Pictures should remain true to life

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The Independent Culture
EVERYONE HAS taken holiday snaps that have come back from the developers with friends headless, or close family chopped off at their feet. Such accidental "editing" is one thing, but the potential power of photo-journalism of misrepresentation in the national press is quite another. That power has most recently been encountered by Mrs Shelly Anne Emery, blotted out of a photograph of triumphant England cricketers in The Sun. Mrs Emery is in a wheelchair; the nasty suspicion has been that she was deliberately excluded on the basis of her disability.

The Sun's apology has been full and generous. The lapse is more interesting for what it reveals about today's journalism than for what it tells us about The Sun. Powerful digital technology puts new temptations in the way of journalists in an ever more competitive world; it can present them with unlimited choices. There is a crucial difference between what could be achieved with cut-and-paste, and what can be achieved now. Previously, sections of a photograph could be deleted; now images themselves can change. Every component can be altered with inexpensive software.

Distortion - or "licence" - is not confined to newspapers. This year we have had an ITV documentary about drug-smuggling revealed as a fake, and the BBC accused of manufacturing scenes in their docu-soaps about "ordinary" people. Moving pictures and photographs are used because of their impact; they should be subject to exactly the same scrutiny as the scripts that accompany them.

No one is arguing that there is some pristine reality that should not be touched; photographs have always been trimmed. Photographers' compositions represent editing in themselves. One simple rule should be never to interfere with photographs in a way that changes their very meaning. There is a difference between showing only one aspect of reality, and showing something that is unreal in itself.