Kate's photo has been pulled by five news agencies amid fears of 'doping'.

  • Written by Thomas Mackintosh and Daniela Relph
  • BBC News

Image source, Prince of Wales

Major British news agency PA has become the fifth photo service to withdraw a photo of the Princess of Wales and her children over concerns about the image.

Four international photography agencies had already withdrawn the photo due to fears of “tampering” with it.

The photo, which Prince William took on the occasion of Mother's Day, was the first of Catherine released by Kensington Palace since her surgery in January.

Kensington Palace declined to comment.

Earlier, Getty Images, AFP, Reuters and Associated Press pulled the image, citing “inconsistency in the alignment of Princess Charlotte's left hand.”

The PA news agency said the image, which Kensington Palace originally posted on its social media, had been submitted in “good faith”.

But she added in a statement: “We became aware of concerns about the photo and published a report on it last night, and made clear that we were seeking urgent clarification about the photo from Kensington Palace.”

“In the absence of this clarification, we will delete the image from our photo service.”

The photo shows the princess sitting, surrounded by Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis and Prince George, with the latter wrapping his arms around her.

This was the first official photo of the Princess of Wales since her abdominal surgery two months ago. Since then, she has remained out of the public eye.

“I wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.”

It has become a regular routine for the royal couple to post photos of themselves for special family occasions. Most often, Catherine takes photos and they are released to the media with instructions on how to use them.

However, before Prince William's photo of his family was posted online, it had passed through the social media team at Kensington Palace, which manages the online accounts of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Some modifications may have been made to the original image which has now resulted in inconsistencies in its appearance.

The implication here is not that the entire photo is fake or that the Princess of Wales is sicker than she appears in the photo. This seems unlikely and would be a 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 used in television news bulletins – again including the BBC.

In order to use the new image as quickly as possible, the BBC took the image that Kensington Palace in London used on its social media accounts.

But late Sunday, The Associated Press, one of several international agencies that distributed the photo, issued a “kill notice” — a term used in the industry to retract the photo.

She said: “Upon closer examination, it appears that the source tampered with the image. An alternative image will not be sent.”

Getty Images became the fourth organization to pull the image.

Image source, Prince of Wales/Kensington Palace, London

Most news organizations follow their own strict guidelines on the use of manipulated images, and only use them when accompanied by an explanation that the image has been altered from the original.

That's why news agencies, like the Associated Press, commit to their clients that their images are accurate and not digitally manipulated.

AP rules only allow for “minor adjustments” in certain circumstances, including cropping, toning and color operations, as well as removing dust from the camera's sensors. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that “dramatically alter the original scene” are unacceptable, she says.

Social media platform

At this point, the most likely explanation is that some excessive editing of the image to make it ready for publication has cast doubt on its authenticity.

The photo, which was designed to calm the conversation about the Princess of Wales's recovery, instead sparked all the rumors once again.

Royal photographer Ian Lloyd told the BBC that editing photos was “not unusual,” saying: “This has continued in photography, and royal photography in particular, since the dawn of photography.”

He pointed to a photo of the Prince and Princess of Wales' Christmas card, released in December 2023, in which Prince Louis appeared to “have a toe missing” and there was an “extra leg”.

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

The palace shared few details about her condition, which sparked significant speculation on social media, but said it was not linked to cancer.

The team supporting the Princess during her recovery 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 “preserve as much normalcy as possible for her children.”

The palace said it would only provide updates on her recovery when there was important new information to share.

It was thought on Sunday morning that the photo would put to rest some of the more extreme theories about the princess's absence from the public stage. But within hours, social media was filled with enlarged photos of Princess Charlotte's left cuff and Prince Louis' fingers.

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