A popular magazine owned by a close friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy doctored a photograph of the French leader to make his waist look thinner, a rival publication reported on Thursday.
The weekly news magazine L'Express said Paris Match, owned by businessman Arnaud Lagardere, had applied a "magic wand" to the photograph of Sarkozy paddling in a canoe to remove the bulges around his waist that are often known as "love handles."
A presidential spokesman said Sarkozy had not asked for the alteration. But the story highlights charges that the president has enjoyed favorable treatment from some parts of the media because of his ties to wealthy and influential businessmen.
L'Express published the original version of the picture, taken by a Reuters photographer while Sarkozy was on holiday in the U.S. resort town of Wolfeboro, N.H., this month, next to the version that appeared in Paris Match on Aug. 9.
Paris Match declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
But L'Express quoted an unnamed person at Paris Match as saying the way Sarkozy was sitting would have made the bulge look larger: "The position on the boat would have exaggerated this protuberance. By lightening the shadows, the correction was exaggerated during the printing process."
Sarkozy, 52, is regularly photographed jogging or cycling, takes care of his physical condition and has made much of his dynamic image. But presidential spokesman David Martinon denied he had intervened in any way in the case.
"Obviously there was no instruction or demand of any sort from here," he told reporters at a regular news briefing.
The Lagardere group is one of France's leading publishers with titles ranging from Elle to Paris Match and Europe 1, one of the country' biggest radio stations.
Sarkozy, who this week marked his first 100 days in power, has made no secret of his close friendship with some of France's richest businessmen.
He went on holiday on a yacht owned by corporate raider Vincent Bollore immediately after his victory in May's presidential election.
Fierce attacks from the left
Sarkozy has been the target of fierce attacks by left-wing newspaper Liberation and the weekly Marianne for his uncompromising and interventionist style.
But there have long been accusations that other media have deliberately soft-pedaled or even ignored potentially unfavorable stories.
Earlier this year, Le Journal du Dimanche, a weekly controlled by Lagardere, was embarrassed by the revelation that it had dropped a story revealing that Sarkozy's wife Cecilia had not voted for him in the presidential election.
Sarkozy was also accused of being responsible for the sacking last year of former Paris Match editor Alain Genestar after the magazine published a front page picture of Cecilia and her lover at a time when she and her husband were estranged.