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Say fromage! Agency denies censorship after withdrawing 'gormless' picture of Francois Hollande

Agence France Presse transmitted the unflattering picture to clients on Tuesday, then quickly issued a 'Mandatory Kill' order

Rob Williams
Thursday 05 September 2013 10:13 BST
Say 'fromage!' - François Hollande's moment of madness
Say 'fromage!' - François Hollande's moment of madness (Reuters)

Agence France Presse (AFP), the French press agency, has been forced to deny charges of self-censorship after attempting to withdraw a picture of the French President, Francois Hollande, with a 'gormless' grin on his face.

The image, which shows the President gurning while sat beneath a blackboard on which is written "Today, it's back to school", was taken on Tuesday as Hollande visited a school in Denain, northern France, to coincide with the start of term.

AFP initially transmitted the unflattering picture, which was taken by a pool photographer, to clients on Tuesday, then quickly issued a “Mandatory Kill” order, sparking allegations of self-censorship when the image emerged on Twitter.

The picture prompted derision from users of the micro-blogging site with one writing that no amount of Photoshop editing software "can make the president look more intelligent".

AFP also faced a raft of questions from French media hinting that they may have come under pressure from Elysée Palace to withdraw the photo. The picture was also made available via Reuters on a pooled basis.

AFP’s global news director, Philippe Massonnet, was forced to deny suggestions that the agency withdrew the picture because of pressure from the French government.

In a lengthy piece on the AFP 'Correspondent' blog Mr Massonnet explains that "AFP has a rule not to transmit images that gratuitously ridicule people," explaining that their photographers often catch public figures "at international conferences or waiting to give a speech, for instance – in unflattering but entirely human poses, such as with a finger in a nostril."

Mr Massonnet says that the image was shot by a “pool” photographer because of the lack of space in the classroom. He explains that the photographer has a particular responsibility to avoid "unusual angles" in order to avoid the photograph being miscontrued.

Massonnet explains that this was the reason for the withdrawal of the image and that the decision was based on editorial guidelines.

He goes on, however, to conclude that the attempt to withdraw the picture "breathed new life" into the photograph writing: "In trying to “kill” the photo after it had already been transmitted, we actually drew more attention to it and fueled the suspicion that AFP had bowed to political pressure, thus causing some people to call into question the agency’s credibility."

The incident, as Massonnet explains, is an example of the so-called 'Streisand effect'.

The Streisand effect is when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicising it more widely.

The term is based on the American entertainer's attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu. After losing her lawsuit the almost-unseen photographs subsequently attracted worldwide attention.

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