Georgie Purcell: Nine News Melbourne’s doctored MP image causes sexism fury

Georgie Purcell outside Victorian Parliament
Image caption,Georgie Purcell is a member of Victoria’s state parliament

By Tiffanie Turnbull

BBC News, Sydney

An Australian news channel has come under fire after it doctored an image of a female state MP that enlarged her breasts and exposed her midriff.

The photo of Georgie Purcell appeared in a Nine News bulletin after she criticised the Victorian government’s rejection of a duck hunting ban.

Ms Purcell posted the original and altered images to social media, noting how her outfit had been edited.

Nine News apologised and claimed “automation by Photoshop” was to blame.

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Speaking to the BBC, the Animal Justice Party MP said seeing the image had capped off what had already been her worst day since being elected in 2022.

“It’s certainly confronting seeing your body altered on your TV in your own home,” she said.

“What has happened to me in the past 24 hours is just something that would never, ever happen to a male politician.”

Other politicians and members of the public have also been outraged.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan – who herself was controversially¬†depicted naked in a newspaper cartoon last year, said: “That’s no way to represent any woman, let alone a woman who holds a position in public office.”

Nine News Melbourne boss Hugh Nailon has “unreservedly” apologised to Ms Purcell for the “graphic error”.

“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.”

Ms Purcell said while she accepts Nine’s apology, she is sceptical of their explanation.

But if it was an accident, she says, it raises concerns about the threat of AI to women in public life and why newsroom staff did not notice her outfit had been sexualised.

“This is not just some random person on the internet. This is a organisation with a lot of staff and a lot of resources that frankly should know better.”

Ms Purcell, who has previously spoken about working as a stripper to support herself through law school, has long been a target for sexist abuse, and says the altered image has already reinvigorated it.

“[They are] criticising me, telling me to get back on the pole, like weaponising it against me,” she said.

In recent years, Australian politics more broadly has been grappling with what women say is a prevailing sexist culture.

A landmark report in 2021 – triggered by an alleged rape inside Australia’s Parliament House – found a third of employees in federal parliament had been sexually harassed.

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