A lawmaker in the Australian state of Victoria sat down to watch the nightly news Monday, expecting to see herself as a prominent opponent of duck hunting.
But Victorian MP Georgie Purcell noticed that in a photo used by 9News, the tattoos on her lower back were missing.
“I saw the image come up on the screen and I thought, ‘This is really weird’ because my stomach is heavily tattooed,” Ms Purcell said on Wednesday.
She compared the image to the original photo, taken last year by a local newspaper, and realized that not only had her tattoos been removed, but her dress had been turned into a crop top and skirt. “They gave me chiseled abs and chest,” he said. “I felt really, really uncomfortable about it.”
After Ms Purcell pointed out the edits on social media site X, female lawmakers and journalists slammed the edit as sexist and objectifying.
News agency 9News apologized to Ms Purcell. In a statement, it called the changes a “graphics bug” and blamed a Photoshop automation tool.
The outlet’s graphics department used an online photo of Ms Purcell for a story, said a statement from Hugh Nailon, the agency’s news director for Melbourne, which is based in Victoria. While resizing the photo to match the news package specifications, “Automation from Photoshop produced an image that did not conform to the original,” the statement said.
Ms Purcell disputed the view that there was no human element to the situation. A spokesman for Adobe, which owns Photoshop, said edits to the image “would require human intervention and approval”.
Nine, the company that owns 9News, did not respond to emailed requests for clarification. The Sydney Morning Herald, which is also owned by Nine, reported that the company said it had “confirmed that there was human intervention in the decision to use the image”.
Some commenters familiar with working with Photoshop have suggested that if artificial intelligence is to blame, the edits could have been made using a Photoshop tool that fills in empty space above or below an image with an automatically generated image continuation. Others, such as Rob Nicholls, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney, said the changes could have been made with an auto-enhancement feature, similar to selfie filters that alter one’s facial features.
Broadcasting the image, apparently without anyone checking that it was an accurate depiction of Ms Purcell, shows that “the use of artificial intelligence without strong editorial controls runs the risk of making very significant mistakes,” he said.
The incident shows that artificial intelligence can reproduce existing biases, he added. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these issues tend to be gendered.”
Ms Purcell said she believed similar edits made to images of other female MPs would not have been allowed to air but in her case because of her past. “I’m young, I’m blonde, I’m covered in tattoos, I have a background in sex work,” she said. “At least it has started a very important conversation about the mistreatment of women in public life.”