As state manipulators of the media go, few can compare to North Korea, which this week is mourning the death of Kim Jong-il. But even with all the careful orchestration of the ceremonies, the North Korean media still found it necessary to doctor an official photograph of the funeral procession.
Just as governments are finding it easier to use technology to manipulate images, so too is the public finding it easier to spot such digital trickery. Here are six noteworthy attempts by governments to shape media coverage through image manipulation.
North Korea has a history of photoshopping official photographs, sometimes for political reasons, sometimes for dramatic effect. Their latest effort, upon a picture of Kim Jong-il's funeral procession, appears to be aesthetic.
The state-run North Korean news agency released a stately, but otherwise mundane, photo of Kim's procession amid throngs of mourners. But The New York Times compared the photo to one taken just a few seconds later by a Kyodo News photographer, and found that a group of six men, apparently part of a camera crew standing behind the crowd, were mysteriously omitted from the Korean version. Upon closer analysis, the Times found evidence of digital editing – apparently the group had been erased from the periphery of the procession.
But why remove such a noncontroversial detail? The Times' guess: "Totalitarian aesthetics. With the men straggling around the sidelines, a certain martial perfection is lost. Without the men, the tight black bands of the crowd on either side look railroad straight."
North Korea is not always so banal in its photoshopping, though. In July when heavy flooding apparently hit the North hard, they released a photo showing North Koreans wading through floodwaters, but the Associated Press pulled the photo after noting that several of the waders didn't appear to be wet. And amid the rumors in 2008 that Kim Jong-il was unwell, North Korea released a photo of him standing amidst military officials – but a comparison of the shadows that Kim's legs cast to those the officers cast indicate that Kim was added to the photo later – almost certainly to portray him in full health.
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