AFP issues 'mandatory kill' order on 'unflattering' photo of French president

Dylan Stableford
Yahoo News
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Agence France Presse was accused of censorship after they attempted to withdraw this unflattering picture of French President Francois Hollande. His gurning face, pictured in front of a blackboard which reads "Today, it is the start of the new school year" became a popular topic on Twitter. (Reuters)

Agence France-Presse has come under fire for issuing a "mandatory kill" order on a photograph of French President Francois Hollande it deemed "unflattering."

The photo, of Hollande marking "back to school" day in France, was taken by AFP photographer Denis Charlet and transmitted to the global news agency's clients on Tuesday. It quickly issued a request to its clients to delete the photo, leading to speculation that AFP was pressured by the French government to pull the image.

The agency, however, says it was an editorial decision, and not censorship.

"AFP has a rule not to transmit images that gratuitously ridicule people," AFP global news director Philippe Massonnet explained in a blog post. "The decision to publish each picture is based on its news or informational value. We never publish something purely for its shock value or to mock someone. Our 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."

But Massonnet conceded that issuing a "mandatory kill order" was a bad decision — and drew more attention to the photo:

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.

The picture is quite banal and far from being scandalous in itself. AFP publishes an average of 2,500 photos daily, and this one would probably have gone largely unnoticed if we hadn’t asked our clients to retract it.

Instead, it went viral.