The BPPA’s second submission to the Leveson Inquiry

When the Leveson Inquiry first opened we had little or no idea that press photographers would come in for so much criticism and abuse from the witnesses. At the association’s AGM in November we formed a plan to do what we could to counter this and put our side of the story. Shortly afterwards we sent an initial submission in the form of an open letter to Lord Justice Leveson and his team to see if we could be added as a “core participant’ at The Inquiry.

We were refused that status on the grounds that we were, apparently, both adequately represented and because press photography wasn’t a specific topic for the inquiry. We had expected to be refused and so the job of drafting the second, longer, submission began. The BPPA’s Board approved it at the end of last week and it was submitted ahead of the resumption of The Inquiry on Monday 9th January. The full document is 18 pages long and almost impossible to summarise in a blog posting so here are some key parts of the INTRODUCTION, our four-part STRATEGY and the CONCLUSION in full:

OUTLINE

The association is in a position to make a unique and positive contribution to the debate by providing a more accurate, up-to-date and informed assessment than any other organisation on the specific topics where we have expertise. In this written submission The BPPA will offer The Inquiry our views on:

  • The culture and practices of professional press photographers
  • The market place for news pictures and how it affects those cultures and practices
  • The problems that the market for celebrity images are causing
  • Privacy laws vs public interest

As well as our proposals for

  • Cooperation between all parts of the media to establish clear and enforceable ethical guidelines and codes of behaviour and etiquette
  • The reduction and elimination of the problems of unethical photographers, the so-called ‘stalkerazzi’
STRATEGY
The current international and multi-platform market is, however, no place for voluntary codes to function in isolation. The BPPA’s Board is of the opinion that we need a four-pronged strategy:
  • Make the publishers of websites, blogs, magazines and newspapers and their editors financially and professionally responsible for any lack of due diligence in checking how, where and why pictures that they are publishing were taken. Photographs acquired from citizen journalists, CCTV systems and inexperienced photographers should have a clear and strict series of tests applied before publication to verify their provenance
  • Images purchased from holders of UK Press Cards or from reputable agencies that are members of a United Kingdom Press Card Authority member body would require a lower standard of checking and proof because the photographer holding the press card would, according to the new ethical code, already have performed tests as they were shot. Should the images turn out to have been acquired irresponsibly, that would constitute a breach of the code of ethics that they sign up to when receiving their new UK Press Card
  • Strengthening of the UK Press Card scheme with an enforceable code of conduct including the suspensions and cancellations of cards. This obviously will not stop the cowboys who don’t have genuine press cards but it will provide a framework within which to work
  • Agree a simple outline about exactly which laws apply to photographers when they are going about their legitimate business: trespass, assault, intimidation, harassment and so on. It would also be advisable to clarify where and when the various elements of the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of The Child become applicable without allowing rich and powerful vested interests to slip a de-facto privacy law in by the back door

CONCLUSION

The British Press Photographers’ Association is very keen to be a partner to The Inquiry when solutions are discussed and when recommendations are made. We believe that it is in the long-term interests of our profession to contribute to the discussion and to help to shape the future of the industry. The association has an excellent track record in negotiating, agreeing and publicising codes of conduct. The BPPA and other photographer groups got together with the Metropolitan Police and then with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to agree the guidelines by which we work alongside each other. These guidelines have been in place for several years and have been very successful.

We would recommend the four-pronged strategy outline previously because we believe that adopting it would provide the following outcomes:

  • To provide assurances to the general public that professional journalists exist and that our work is ethical, legal and trustworthy
  • To create clear and unambiguous rules for the conduct of media workers
  • To establish systems within all publications, whether they are print, on-line or broadcast to check where and how material was sourced
  • To use the market place and existing legislation to control the so-called ‘stalkerazzi’

Anyone with the money can buy a camera and call themselves photographers and, as things stand, all of us have to contend with the actions of the relatively small number of unethical operators out there on a daily basis. Several times in this submission we have referred to press photographers as the very visible face of the media and all of our colleagues can relate stories of being shouted at, abused and even assaulted because of a general perception that all news photographers stalk celebrities for a living. This is just not true and The BPPA wishes to make that clear.

There are a large number of genuine and well-behaved entertainment and celebrity specialists who never cross the line, break the law or act outside any new rules that we might develop whose careers could be greatly assisted if we get this process right.

The introduction of a French style privacy law would be the archetypal ‘sledgehammer to crack a walnut’ combined with a textbook case of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. We support the clarification of existing laws and the establishment of a meaningful, clear, enforceable and unambiguous ethical framework as the correct path along which to proceed.

WHAT TO DO NEXT…

We achieved significant impact with our social media campaign when we published our initial submission and we need to at least match that effort with this document IF we are going to achieve our next objective, which is to get a seat at the table if and when The Inquiry starts to make reccomendations about the future and press photography.

Roy Greenslade’s article

Former Daily Mirror Editor turned academic Roy Greenslade wrote a column for the London Evening Standard yesterday entitled “Editors must curbs excesses of stalkerazzi” and a lot of it made a lot of sense:

  • He agreed that the majority of press photographers do behave ethically all of the time
  • He said that “we have to rely on editors to stick to the current code of practice, which prohibits photographic harassment. Given that it hasn’t worked thus far, perhaps we need to create a new clause to deal specifically with the blight of the stalking snappers”
  • He concluded that “editors have to take responsibility for researching the provenance of the pictures they publish. They provide the market and they need to buy from accredited sources or, at least, make sure the photograph was obtained without needless intrusion and bad behaviour”
  • He has introduced the term “stalkerazzi” into the debate

We aren’t looking to excuse the behaviour of those with cameras who behave badly. We are looking to bring a bit of balance to the Leveson Inquiry, to point out where we think the issues are and to bring hundreds of years of collective experience into the equation when a plan of action is made.

The trouble is that, despite being a Professor of Journalism, he has allowed himself to muddy the waters with personal anecdotes – one from Los Angeles where the stalkerazzi problem makes London look like a Gentlemens’ club and another from back when Princess Diana was the principal target for the paparazzi. The BPPA has spoken to photographers who ran with the ‘Diana Pack’ and none of them remember the abuse and provocation that the Professor mentions.

It’s a shame that his list of anecdotes didn’t include being a guest at a dinner held by The BPPA in 1990 where the association gave him a platform to launch the Ian Parry Scholarship – a fund in memory of a brave young press photographer who lost his life doing what press photographers do best; a fund that The BPPA still supports to this day and a charity whose name is written into the association’s constitution.

We don’t want to get into any more of a point by point discussion of Roy Greenslade’s article because that would be missing the point.

There is a problem, several celebrity and industry witnesses have given their point of view and it’s time that the inquiry heard from a profession that has been blamed for the actions of a tiny number of people, most of whom are not either British or professionals.