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A Range of Voices in the Press Is Not Enough, We Need a Range of Pictures, Too

31/07/2014 13:36 BST | Updated 29/09/2014 10:59 BST

Is Theresa May the next Angela Merkel? asked the FT this weekend. Could she succeed Cameron when he steps down from his ministerial throne? The article was fair enough: balanced, insightful, well researched and well written - all you expect from an FT article (and rarely find in other papers). It was all the more disappointing, therefore, to find the range of photography in the mazine feature so stale.

May, mid-sentence, shot from the chin up - everyone's worst angle, regardless of attractiveness; Gove with his rubbery lips compressed and his cheeks blown; Osborne, looking shrewd and sly; Boris Johnson like a plonker, hands deep in pockets like a schoolboy. None of these politicians are beloved of me - quite the opposite - and no doubt there's an element of truth in these snaps, but I find it incredible that such a carelessly biased selection of images can sit alongside an article that has taken pains to be fair.

A picture speaks a thousand words, we're told - yet these shots say no more than a handful. Once the media have decided how a figure should be presented, their narrow-minded view is reiterated at every possible turn. Ed Miliband: ridiculous. George Brown: awkward. Rebecca Brooks: witch-ish; Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Maggie; cold, manly. The list is endless and, unusually, as cruel to men as it is women, who tend to suffer most under the media spotlight.

There is some sign of resistance. On Monday, the Huffington Post relayed Lord Gummer's criticism of the Conservative's image-lead attacks on Ed Miliband. "Anyone can be photographed looking not at their best," he has lamented. "The issue is not about what people look like, or whether they are telegenic. I am not interested in whether he can eat a bacon butty or not.... I don't want to have an argument saying, 'well he lives in this sort of house' or he has 'this sort of face'."

This practice reduces politics, he said, to triviality: "You cannot take a party seriously if it's main attack on its opponent is a personality attack." He's right, and it's a statement in which the press is as implicated as a dealer in an abuse of drugs. Politician's attacks only exist because the press print them, complete with incriminating photos which they repeat ad hoc in the future - regardless of the context. Ed Miliband is denigrated whether he's announcing a new policy on property, vowing to promote more women in cabinet or eating a bacon sandwich, just by the ridiculous photo shown.

It becomes a cipher. Regardless of what we're reading, we see that one picture and instantly consume its message. 'Ed Miliband is a weird' is the conclusion we draw from it, regardless of the written content below. Responding to Leveson's suggestion that Ofcom have some influence over press regulation, the FT pointed out, "Ofcom is charged with regulating television broadcasters that have a legal obligation to impartiality... [involving them] is a step down the road towards state licensing of a press that, of course, has no obligation to provide balance." They're right, but unless media plurality encompasses photos it's meaningless: we're confined to one usually imbalanced lens.

Like many journalists, I revel in the cacophony of voices our papers present - but that is not enough. Humans see as well as listen. To ensure balance - of news, comment or of features - we need a range of photos too.