Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

French newspaper Le Figaro gets caught altering photo… and doesn’t sound all that sorry

with 5 comments

[Update on Nov 22]

L’Express’ editor-in-chief Eric Mettout explains on his blog how and why his paper published the scoop on Le Figaro altering the minister’s photo. (French version at the link, excerpt translated by yours truly below. Molière reference impossible to translate.)

“It’s true it’s not North Kivu, this story. But it’s information, not as harmless as it looks, which says a lot about the collusion of media and [political] power — worse, on the conditioning of certain newspapers or journalists who now self-censor even before the Commander intervenes. It threatens us, too. The day when, God forbid, we slip up, to be called back to our senses this way will be painful but salutary.”


Here’s one for the ethics textbooks that motivates me to revive this otherwise forgotten blog. Look at those two photos:



The top one is the Wednesday Nov 19 front page of Le Figaro, one of France’s top daily newspapers. The bottom one is the original photo taken by François Bouchon for Le Figaro. Notice the gorgeous ring on the finger of our justice minister, Rachida Dati? (by Chaumet, white gold and diamonds, price tag: 15,600 euros, or about $19,500 in today’s super high dollar.) Notice how it’s disappeared on the front page?

Worse than the act of altering a news image (huge no-no, if you were wondering), is the totally unapologetic stance of the Figaro photo editor when interviewed by L’Express, a competing newspaper, which revealed the photo was doctored.

“We went to press under a tight deadline. We’re taking responsibility [for this]. We didn’t want that ring to be the object of a polemic, when the real topic is the judges’ petition. Rachida Dati has nothing to do with this.”

[For context, Le Figaro is right-leaning, as is the government, and people could have assumed the minister requested the ring be removed from the photo. Also, Dati isn’t very popular with France’s law professionals and they recently let it be known. And generally, French people don’t like to see a 20k piece of jewelry on their government officials in the middle of the worst crisis since the Great Depression.]

I’m appalled. If you don’t want the ring to be so apparent, choose one of the other gazillion photos on file of this highly mediatic, government official. (Believe me, I too care about the judges’ petition; half my family is in the legal professions.) Being on deadline might be an excuse for not taking the time to tone a photo; I really don’t see how it’s one for going the extra mile and altering a photo. And most of all, nothing —NOTHING— is an excuse for misleading readers.

I really don’t care what circumstances this was done under, because I can’t think of a single one that would make it ok. At this point, were I a Figaro reader, all I’d want is an apology. And I have yet to find one on Le Figaro’s Web site.

PS: Now the photo is all everyone’s talking about, and not the judges’ petition.


Written by Isabelle Roughol

Friday, 21 November, 2008 at 05:47

Posted in Ethics, France, Photography

5 Responses

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  1. Hey Isabelle — how did the original photo get out?


    Friday, 21 November, 2008 at 13:32

  2. Hi Angilee. Not sure yet. L’Express’ editors’ blog posted a note on the editorial process behind publishing the scoop on their newly launched political blog (which servers couldn’t handle the boost by the way) but nothing on how the original was obtained. I put the question to them in the comment section. To be continued…

    (this way if you can read French:

    Isabelle Roughol

    Saturday, 22 November, 2008 at 02:39

  3. Response from Eric Mettout:
    “@ Isabelle : You are a journalist, you’ll understand that in a case like this one, we avoid citing our sources. Let’s just say that some Figaro contributors found the practice debatable.”

    So the original photo came from some kind of inside source and we won’t know more. Makes me feel better about the ethics of at least some people working at Le Figaro.

    Isabelle Roughol

    Sunday, 30 November, 2008 at 21:17

  4. Interesting post and especially as on a “tight deadline” you would have thought that photoshop-ing out the ring would have been the last thing on their minds.

    Anyway, I’m totally against the editing out of anything in a photo and usually can’t even bring myself to cropping them.

    Great blog btw, and looking forward to more from your Frontline one when it goes live.

    Onnik Krikorian

    Wednesday, 17 December, 2008 at 08:30

  5. I agree with Isabelle.

    Tim Sturrock

    Tim Sturrock

    Monday, 19 January, 2009 at 22:35

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