Kate Middleton photo scandal links Palace to North Korea and Iran, news chief says

Kensington Palace is no longer a “trusted source” of information after it released a manipulated picture of Kate Middleton and her three children, according to the head of Agence France-Presse (AFP).

After the manipulation was detected by a horde of digital sleuths, AFP issued a “kill notice” for the photo, something which is very rarely done — and usually only with content originating from Iranian and North Korean state media sources.

Phil Chetwynd, global news director of AFP, told BBC Radio 4’s “The Media Show” that the agency works “all the time” with Kensington Palace, so it would usually consider it a trusted source. But now, the agency will be “more vigilant” about the content it receives.

“No, absolutely not,” Chetwynd said, when asked if the Palace was still a trusted source. “Like with anything, when you’re let down by a source the bar is raised.”

Last weekend, several news agencies — including The Associated Press (AP), Reuters, Getty Images and AFP — issued “kill notices” for a Mother’s Day photo released by Kensington Palace, which showed the Princess of Wales embracing her three smiling children.

The photo had been released partly in an apparent bid to quell a surge of online conspiracy theories about the whereabouts and well-being of Kate, who has not been seen in public since she underwent abdominal surgery earlier this year. But the world’s top media agencies quickly pulled it from circulation after finding that it appeared to have been manipulated— a bombshell which only fueled the already out-of-control rumor mill.

Kate later admitted to editing the photo, apologizing for “any confusion.” But the damage was done, as the scandal inflamed the crisis of trust already brewing in Kensington Palace.

“One thing that’s really important is you cannot be distorting reality for the public. There’s a question of trust,” Chetwynd said.

Chetwynd said AFP initially validated the photo, but that should never have happened as it “clearly violated” its guidelines.

“It’s not even very well photoshopped, there was clearly a lot of problems with the photo,” he said.

Chetwynd said news agencies asked Kensington Palace to provide the original photo, but they did not receive a reply. That’s when they decided to issue “kill notices,” something that is very rarely done.

“It’s a big deal for an agency to issue a kill [notice],” he said. “To kill something on the basis of manipulation … [we do it] once a year maybe, I hope less. The previous kills we’ve had have been from the North Korean news agency or the Iranian news agency.”