A picture is worth a thousand words. Images have power of instant recall. Which is why the audio-visual medium, particularly television, is great for promotions, whether of products or personalities. And advertisements are mostly pictorial. However, the news that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's photo-graph was "airbrushed" before being published in the magazine, Paris Match - by electronically erasing love handles or flab from his waist - making the politician look trimmer than he is, comes as a blow to responsible journalism. Any alteration, minor or major, is deliberate distortion of truth. And the media - particularly the print media - are seen as guardians of truth. The printed word carries immense credibility among readers. Doctored pictures being passed off as real insult the intelligence of the reader. An alert blogger exposed a Reuters photograph of a fire in Beirut - caused by air force bombing - as software-doctored, deliberately accentuating the billowing smoke and fire. The blogger pointed out that the dishonest photo-grapher had superimposed twin images of the smoke and buildings to create an impression of density and extreme damage. The picture provoked angry reactions internationally. Such misrepresentation is not only mischievous; it can be extremely dangerous and could backfire, creating damage and suspicion. Images of models are airbrushed routinely to enhance the quality of advertisements. However, when the same strategy is adopted to add value to the image of politicians, it raises ethical questions: Is it fair for a public figure to project himself as something he is not? Doing so would amount to tricking voters into believing what they see as the truth. It's not just about hiding flab; it is also about projecting the person as being fit and healthy, disciplined and alert, when he is in fact none of these. In any case, it is not the media's job to assist particular politicians look fitter than they are. It is the responsibility of photographers and writers, commentators and analysts to present things as they are rather than distort truth.
COUNTER VIEW: Appearance makes the man 25 Aug 2007
Who doesn't want to look attractive? These days one's appearance and image is everything even if it involves a minor distortion of reality. And, Paris Match's airbrushing of President Nicolas Sarkozy's love handles must be seen in this context. TV channels employ attractive presenters to increase their TRP ratings. Hotels and companies employ good-looking people to sit at their front desks to impress clients. We all know that prospective brides and grooms have for long engaged creative photographers to shoot pictures that would make them look attractive. Photographers digitally touch-up snaps of special occasions, like weddings of their clients to remove blemishes in their appearance. Apart from the yearning to look good oneself, a presentable appearance is vital for public figures like politicians these days. A recent survey by Australian researchers has found that good looks really do matter in politics. Voters link attractiveness to likeability. Appealing appearance, they say, can add an extra 1.5 to 2 per cent to a candidate's vote. M G Ramachandran and N T Rama Rao exploited the popularity they gained by being attractive movie stars to enter politics. Even after they became career politicians, they continued to groom themselves well. This contributed a great deal in helping them become mass leaders and retain their popularity. It is a human tendency to rate people on their looks, irrespective of their character. We subconsciously link the outer appearances of people to the judgments that we think they would make. Most of our fairy tales revolve around a beautiful princess and her handsome prince. And, invariably, in these tales the ugly people are those who are cruel and of bad character. Clearly, these stories reflect our subconscious preference for the beautiful. The degree of attractiveness impacts all kinds of interpersonal relationships. Those with a good appearance receive sustained attention from others. Which country wouldn't like a hip, good-looking leader, even if it means touching up his or her photos and managing appearances? Make TOI your home page