Princess of Wales: Kate photo retracted by five news outlets amid 'manipulation' concerns

  • By Thomas McIntosh & Daniela Relf
  • BBC News

image source, Prince of Wales

A major UK news agency, PA, has become the fifth image service to withdraw a photo of the Princess of Wales and her children over image concerns.

Four international photo agencies had already withdrawn the image as “manipulated”.

The photo taken by Prince William for Mother's Day is the first photo of Catherine released by Kensington Palace since the operation in January.

Kensington Palace declined to comment.

Earlier, Getty Images, AFP, Reuters and the Associated Press pulled the photo – citing a “contradiction in aligning Princess Charlotte's left arm”.

The PA news agency said the image, originally posted on social media by Kensington Palace, was given “in good faith”.

But it added in a statement: “We are aware of concerns about the film, we carried a statement about it last night and made it clear that we are receiving an urgent briefing on the film from Kensington Palace.

“Because of that lack of clarity, we're killing the image from our image service.”

The photo shows the princess sitting surrounded by Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis and Prince George.

This is the first official photo of the Princess of Wales since undergoing stomach surgery two months ago. Since then, he has stayed out of the public eye.

“Happy Mother's Day everyone.”

It has become common practice for the royal couple to post photos of their own family events. Often, the photos are taken by Catherine and given to the media with instructions on how they can be used.

But before a picture of Prince William of his family was published online, it would have gone through the social media team at Kensington Palace, which manages the online accounts of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

There may have been some editing done to the original photo, which now results in inconsistencies in its appearance.

The implication here is not that the entire photo is a fake or that the Princess of Wales is less healthy than she appears in the picture. It seems unlikely and would be a very high-risk strategy from the Kensington Palace team.

The Mother's Day image was featured on the front pages of many national newspapers and websites, including BBC News, and was used in TV news bulletins – again including the BBC.

To use the new photo as soon as possible, the BBC took the photo used by Kensington Palace on its social media accounts.

But late Sunday, the Associated Press, one of several international agencies that distributed the photo, issued a “kill notice” — an industry term used for a retraction.

It said: “It appears that the source has tampered with the image in the generated scan. A replacement photo will not be sent.”

Getty Images became the fourth organization to return the photo.

image source, Prince of Wales/Kensington Palace

Most news organizations follow their own strict guidelines on the use of manipulated photos, only using them with an explanation that the image has been altered from the original.

News organizations like the AP assure their clients that their photos are accurate and not digitally manipulated.

AP's rules allow only “minor adjustments” in certain situations, including cropping and toning and color adjustments, as well as removing dust from camera sensors. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that “significantly alter the original scene” are not acceptable, it says.

Social media site X posted its own disclaimer on the official account of the Prince and Princess of Wales, saying the image was “believed to have been digitally altered”.

At this point, the most likely explanation is that some overzealous editing to prepare the film for release has actually cast doubt on its authenticity.

The photo, which was designed to cool the conversation about the Princess of Wales' recovery, has instead heated up all the rumors again.

Royal photographer Ian Lloyd told BBC Breakfast that editing of photos was “not unusual”: “Photography, and royal photography in particular, has been around since the beginning of photography”.

A Christmas cover photo of the Prince and Princess of Wales, published in December 2023, where she pointed out that Prince Louis was “apparently missing a toe” and had “an extra leg”.

Catherine, 42, spent 13 nights at the London Clinic near Regent's Park in central London after the operation.

The palace has shared few details about his condition, which has received significant social media speculation, but has said it is not related to cancer.

The group that supports the princess as she recovers is small and limited to those close to her.

At the time of her stay, the palace said the princess wanted her personal medical information to remain private, adding that she wanted to “maintain as much normality as possible for her children”.

The palace said it would only provide updates on her recovery when significant new information was shared.

The Sunday morning photo was thought to quell some serious theories about the princess' absence from the public stage. But within hours social media was abuzz with zoomed-in images of Princess Charlotte's left handbag and Prince Louis' fingers.

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