It must be nice to be a political leader preferred by news agencies because you can count on them to pull unflattering photos. Such was the case with both Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reuters when they pulled a bizarre photo of French President Francois Hollade in which he appears to have a clueless smiling clown expression on his face. The UK Guardian describes the controversy:
Two international news agencies are at the centre of a row over self-censorship after withdrawing an unflattering photograph of the French president, François Hollande. Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reuters were subjected to criticism and widespread ridicule on the internet and social media sites after deciding to pull the picture.
After AFP published the photo of Hollande's visit to a school, the news agency had second thoughts and replaced the original caption with this disclaimer: "Please take it off your systems. We are sorry for any inconvenience and thank you for your co-operation." Reuters followed up with its own act of self-censorship by sending a "picture kill" notice to its clients asking them not to use the photo.
Oops! Sorry but very quickly the cat was out of the bag since the strange photo that AFP and Reuters hoped to kill went viral on Twitter and Facebook. Both those news agencies, due their blatant act of photo self-censorship, have now ensured that the bizarro smiling clown photo of President Hollande will be the go-to mandatory picture to use whenever bloggers all over the Web publish stories about him.
UPDATE: AFP has announced that pulling the Hollande picture was an error. Here is a statement from their global news director Phillipe Massonnet:
"...the editorial decision to retract the photo – while it seemed sound at the time – created more problems than it solved. 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 order to kill the photo ironically breathed new life into this saga, and led to the image being massively shared across social networks in France, often accompanied by unkind comments about AFP."