'Would you want a wheelchair in a picture of the England cricket team?'

Media: 'Sun' newspaper is forced to apologise after it manipulates a photograph to remove image of disabled woman
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The Independent Online
THE SUN newspaper is to apologise to a woman who uses a wheelchair and her husband after it obliterated her from a photograph of England's cricket victory at Headingley and replaced her with a black smudge.

Shelley Anne Emery was photographed by Reuters news agency as she celebrated with England after their Test match series win last Monday against the South African cricket team. But when the photograph was published in the Sun the following day, Mrs Emery had disappeared, although the whole photograph was used.

Mrs Emery's husband, Stephen, shown on the left of the photograph with short hair and a goatee beard, was not blotted out.

Mr Emery said that the couple had enjoyed a good day out at Headingley, Leeds. He fought to get his wife through to the front of the crowd to see the presentation of the trophy, and they had achieved a good position more or less behind bowler Darren Gough. In the original photo Mrs Emery looked happy. Apart from the general euphoria, she had just been given a glass of champagne by England's other leading bowler, Angus Fraser.

"My husband noticed the picture first, and didn't mention it to me because he didn't want to upset me," said Mrs Emery. "I'm putting a brave face on it, but obviously I'm disgusted. There are no words for it."

Deeply hurt by the censored photo, Mrs Emery's husband phoned the Sun's sports desk to find out why his wife had been struck out, to be told: "Why should someone in a wheelchair be in a photo of the English cricket team?"

Mr Emery said that the photograph was bad enough, but the comment added insult to injury.

The Sun's sports editor, Ted Chadwick, insisted yesterday that the decision to remove Mrs Emery from the picture was not prompted by a desire to keep disabled people out of the pages of the newspaper. "The picture was modified for page design purposes ... and there is no policy to remove people in wheelchairs from pictures, we would never dream of it," he said.

He added, however, that the paper would be sending a letter of apology to Mrs Emery.

The Emerys will now take their case to the Press Complaints Commission, whose code of practice states that newspapers "must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material, including pictures".

The alteration of pictures in such a way is deplored by most in the industry. "If someone made a person disappear from a photo, it would cost him his job here, definitely," said Horst Faas, European picture editor at Associated Press. "And if we found out that a stringer doctored his photos we would never use him again."

But on-screen editing has made it far easier to change pictures than in the old days of dark rooms and airbrushes. "You can move a soccer ball about, put it in the goal when it wasn't there. You can make things appear and disappear, or take several pictures and construct an entirely new one," Mr Horst said.

Reuel Golden, editor of the British Journal of Photography, said: "Someone straight out of college can learn to do these things with just a week or two of training on an Apple Mac," he said.

There is growing pressure for any picture that has been significantly altered to be labelled clearly when it is published.

The Emerys' case is the latest in a number of high-profile instances in which newspapers have altered photographs. The Guardian last year "improved" its Budget photograph of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, holding up his red box, by removing one of the young workers at Mr Brown's side. The editor, Alan Rusbridger, published an apology the next day.

Before last year's general election, the London Evening Standard doctored a photo of John Prescott, now the Deputy Prime Minister, so he appeared to be drinking champagne rather than beer. The editor, Max Hastings, apologised to Mr Prescott saying: "I deplore any alteration of photographs in this way."