They say a picture can tell thousands of words, and this has never been truer than in the age of shareable content. But there must be boundaries in terms of how far we’re willing to manipulate, irrespective of the cause.
The Mirror caused ripples this month when it emerged the image on the front cover of Wednesday 16th April’s edition was actually a fake (pictured here). Or rather the image was real, but had nothing to do with the headline- the picture of an apparently poverty stricken young boy in tears, here used to support a lead story on food banks and the plight of Britain’s economically disenfranchised, was really taken in San Francisco several years earlier.
GlobalResearch Centre for Research On Globalization [sic] suggests readers, TV viewers, radio listeners and Internet news consumers are exposed to this kind of practice far more regularly than most would care to assume. A recent article, The Routine Use of Fake Images and Video in Western Media, is well worth a browse, not least as it exposes the likes of CNN and BBC for apparently deliberate errors such as ‘mistakenly’ showing footage of Indian protesters during a report on the Libyan revolution, and re-appropriating heavy handed Singapore police officers for a story on clashes between Venzuelan cops and rioters.
This month our blog has had a heavy focus on our position as a leading food and drink PR agency, and although I’m happy to say none of our brands would ever employ such tactics, the sector is known for deliberate visual misdirection. Clearly, though, there’s a huge difference in the ramifications of a cereal suggesting we can glean some kind of fruity benefits from an ingredients list made up of largely processed items, and the news agencies many people rely on for accurate reportage engaging in duplicity. Nevertheless, both are deplorable, although the impact of being outed can be far more severe when a brand is the perpetrator.
Fashion house Yves Saint Lauren, often regarded as risque in terms of marketing stance, came slightly unstuck not so long ago by re-igniting the question of model sizes via a campaign featuring women, men and worryingly thin-looking legs. Clearly the product of both very thin models and Photoshop, the dishonest images were sold as aspirational, achievable and chic. Similarly, weight loss and beauty firms have frequently been called into question over so-called before and after shots.
Whether its clothes, snacks or lost pounds, whilst the sheer number of occassions in which these types of businesses have fallen foul of public opinion thanks to the abuse, misuse and re-use of visual tools means we have grown used to the problem, surely the real worry is that if this culture continues it risks harming the legitimacy of any picture in the public realm. In short; is it not in the interest of brands, media outlets, editors and advertisers to self-regulate in a bid to safeguard public trust?