By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An Australian broadcaster tarts up a lawmaker’s photo and blames it on AI

The only surprising part of this story is that the Murdochs aren’t involved. While I was paging through The Boston Globe this morning, I came across a Washington Post story reporting that a television outlet in Australia had photoshopped an image of a female member of Australia’s parliament to make her outfit look more revealing and her breasts larger. BBC News reported on this outrageous example of sexism as well.

The lawmaker, Georgie Purcell, is young and has tattoos, which I guess makes her fair game in the minds of certain retrograde news executives. “I endured a lot yesterday,” she wrote on X/Twitter. “But having my body and outfit photoshopped by a media outlet was not on my bingo card.”

The media outlet, Nine News, apologized and blamed it on Photoshop. The BBC quotes Hugh Nailon, the head of Nine News Melbourne:

“As is common practice, the image was resized to fit our specs. During that process, the automation by Photoshop created an image that was not consistent with the original,” he said in a statement on Tuesday, referring to a tool which uses AI to expand pictures.

“This did not meet the high editorial standards we have.”

But in a statement, a spokesperson for Adobe — the firm which produces Photoshop — told the BBC: “Any changes to this image would have required human intervention and approval.”

It sure sounds like Nailon’s explanation is, well, wrong, but it may also not be far off. It wouldn’t surprise me if artificial intelligence were used in some part of the process, as a command to tart up an existing photo of Purcell would likely result in an image very much like the one at issue.

As for Nine News — well, if you thought Rupert Murdoch controlled every newspaper and television station in Australia (or at least the sleazy ones), that appears not to be the case. I didn’t do a deep dive, but according to Wikipedia, Nine News is part of Nine Entertainment, which was founded in 2006. It’s a publicly traded company whose holdings include several major newspapers such as  The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

I hope we find out the full story of what happened. If this was intended as a nasty joke by a low-level employee, that can be dealt with easily enough. But if it came from a higher level of the company, that needs to be revealed. And if AI — or, rather, a human being using AI — turns out to be the culprit, then we need to have a talk about the technology’s uses and abuses.

Update: The AI software may have been Adobe Firefly, according to Crikey. Of course, that changes nothing. Firefly didn’t do it. A person using Firefly did it, looked at the results and said, “This is great! My work is done.”

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1 Comment

  1. Adam Smith

    That’s pretty bad. Having edited/processed many photos and entered code for photo sizing, I at first, before looking at the photo closely, started to buy the “resized to fit our specs” excuse. That could alter the shape/proportions of what was in the photo, but that is not the case in here. Newsrooms would be well served to only use software that allows manual editing and, even better, only global editing, of images.

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