World Press Photo contest reverses decision to allow AI-generated images after backlash

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SINGAPORE – One of the most prestigious contests in photojournalism has walked back a decision to allow submissions of images generated with artificial intelligence (AI), following an uproar by photojournalists.

The World Press Photo (WPP) had initially announced on Nov 16 that one of the categories of its 2024 contest would permit images that have been partially created with generative AI as long as these entries “incorporate lens-based still photography as the source and central part of the work”.

The move was criticised by prominent photojournalists, who questioned whether these images could be considered journalism in the first place.

The WPP’s Open Format category had allowed submissions of images that were partially created with a photo-editing tool known as generative fill, which automatically creates or removes elements in a photograph, sometimes through a text prompt.

WPP had previously said that the Open Format category was meant to encourage submissions which featured innovative techniques, non-traditional modes of presentation and new storytelling approaches.

It had cited examples of winners from past editions of the category who had used graphic elements and text on their images. “It would not be logical to put limitations on what tools can be used to create these non-photographic elements,” said the WPP.

But four days later, the WPP’s organisers banned submissions that have been either partially or fully generated by AI, citing the “honest and thoughtful feedback over the past days”.

The incident has created debate over the use of AI in photojournalism.

Over 100 people, including photojournalists and photo editors, wrote an open letter to the WPP on Nov 21 in which they said the organisation should uphold ethical standards of photojournalism at time of “viral disinformation”.

“While we encourage discourse about the emergence and implications of AI creations, we are deeply troubled that WPP promotes images that would not be acceptable in any format by WPP’s own standards,” said the letter.

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