“Yesterday, the background of your programme, you had Jeremy Corbyn dressed up against the Kremlin skyline… dressed up as a ‘Soviet Stooge’”

That’s what the journalist and author Owen Jones told the BBC’s Evan Davis on Friday’s edition of Newsnight.

Some commentators have accused Newsnight of altering a picture of the Labour leader to make him appear close to Russia.

Is that a fair characterisation? FactCheck takes a look.

The picture

Here’s the image in question. It features the Moscow skyline with particular emphasis on the Kremlin, a red and pink candy-stripe sky, and a recoloured photo of Jeremy Corbyn.

The criticism of Newsnight has centred on two elements:

  • The fact that the image of the Labour leader was placed next a photo of the Kremlin.
  • An alleged adjustment of the photo to make Mr Corbyn’s hat darker and taller – apparently to look more like a traditional “Russian hat”.

The combined effect of these creates, according to the Canary website, a “blatant visual association between Vladimir Putin’s ‘red’ Russia and Corbyn’s ‘red’ Labour.”

The Kremlin background

Obviously it’s true that the image of Jeremy Corbyn was placed next to one of the Kremlin on Newsnight.

But it’s worth pointing out – as the programme’s acting editor, Jess Brammar, did on Saturday – that the same graphic was used to frame an image of the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, when he was the topic of discussion some weeks before.

Although we do note that the image of Mr Williamson was not recoloured in the way that Mr Corbyn’s was.

The hat

In a blog post on Saturday, the Skwawkbox website said “The hat in the Newsnight composite has clearly been enlarged upwards for effect – and Corbyn’s coat darkened so he looks more like a Russian politburo member.”

They presented the images of Mr Corbyn side-by-side in an animated gif. Here’s a cropped section of the original, focusing on Mr Corbyn’s hat (top) and a cropped version of the image as broadcast by Newsnight:

It’s true that in the Newsnight version, Mr Corbyn’s hat is indeed taller and darker than in the original photo.

However, as some commentators have pointed out, the image was displayed on Newsnight’s curved background screen, which could affect the photo’s perspective.

We asked our graphics team to test out the flat version of the original image with the same distortion as the Newsnight background. Here’s what that looks like:

It’s clear that the hat has not been made taller – it’s simply a matter of the curved background screen distorting the dimensions of the photo.

And it’s worth saying that, distorted or not, Mr Corbyn’s headwear already has Russian connotations. Known variously as the Greek fisherman’s cap, the fiddler cap and the Lenin cap, the hat was famously worn by key figures in the Russian Revolution – including Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.

FactCheck verdict

These things are true:

  • Newsnight placed a photo of Jeremy Corbyn next to a graphic of the Kremlin.
  • The Newsnight version was both darker and redder than the original image.
  • In the Newsnight version, Mr Corbyn’s hat was taller than in the original.

However:

  • The Kremlin graphic has been used before by Newsnight, notably alongside the Conservative Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson.
  • Mr Corbyn’s hat only appeared taller because of a perspective distortion caused by Newsnight’s curved background screen.