An Open Letter to Sir George Young MP

Dear Sir George

One of the easiest ways for a backbench Member of Parliament to get noticed and to acquire a platform is to jump onto passing populist bandwagons. Over the years we have seen it many times but Nadine Dorries MP has just joined a very select club; those whose chasing of popularity and notoriety has become something more than a means to an end.

Nobody can possibly think that the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha was anything other than an absolute tragedy. Nobody apart, it seems, from Nadine Dorries. Not content with expressing normal human emotions and offering her sincere condolences to Ms Saldanha’s family and friends the MP for Mid Bedfordshire has done her best to try to blame members of the media in the United Kingdom for the tragedy. Writing on Twitter the former “I’m a Celebrity” contestant suggested that “paps” had driven the nurse to take her own life. This would seem like an attempt to attach the death to one of her own hobby-horses and put some pressure onto her Parliamentary colleagues to force greater restrictions on the press during the Leveson process.

Whether or not the Conservative Whip is returned to Mrs Dorries on a permanent basis, her actions on Twitter go way beyond Parliamentary Privilege and cross the line into ignorant defamation dressed up as human reaction.

The Board of The British Press Photographers’ Association would ask you to take Nadine Dorries MP’s activities on Twitter into account when you review her status as a Conservative MP and to remind her that her tweets could have consequences every bit as damaging as those of the two Australian disc jockeys whose unthinking actions led to Ms Saldanha’s death.

Yours Sincerely

The Board of The British Press Photographers’ Association

The Seating Plan

On Tuesday of this week I was at The Leveson Inquiry. Not outside behind the barriers. Inside the building inside the courtroom, suited and booted and even wearing a tie. More astonishingly, so was The BPPA Chairman Jeff Moore (although he refused to shave). The most important BPPA person was Neil Turner, fellow Vice-Chairman and the man in the spotlight. The man who was going into battle with some of the finest minds in the British legal system.

Neil had prepared the initial eighteen page submission, so we knew that inside out, but as we spent most of the day before preparing we had no idea what route the questioning might take. Would they demand to know what our definition of ‘private and public’ was? Would they hold up photographs of photographers in bun-fights and demand their names? Would they demand the names of dodgy picture desks and editors?

The night before we had dinner together, whilst going over and over what might happen. Afterwards, Jeff said that it felt like The Last Supper. To put it bluntly we were bordering on terrified, well I was and Jeff admitted to being even worse. There was some mention of his ‘flapping posterior’…..

On Tuesday morning, we met beforehand and had a last minute chat and a hearty condemned man’s last meal. I went for the bacon sandwich. We headed off to Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) in London, where we were met by a ‘baying pen full of paparazzi’. Oh no hang on a minute, that’s what a television journalist would say. What really happened, was that some of our colleagues greeted us with a wave and got us to pose for photographs. One of the pictures even made it onto the Metro website! It was a little strange being on the ‘wrong’ side of the press pen, but it didn’t last long.

Incidently, the press pen itself was another of our little victories. The pen had been organised at the eleventh hour prior to the start of The Leveson Inquiry proceedings, by myself with Getty Images photographer Pete Macdiarmid and the help of High Court regular Nick Razzell. The Leveson Inquiry kicked off on Monday 21st November 2011 with Hugh Grant and the parents of Milly Dowler. There was no press pen organised in the High Court precinct for photographers. It was going to be chaos. Imagine the footage our television colleagues would have lapped up of the witnesses fighting their way through the throng of fifty or more photographers and cameramen! It would have been very very ugly and luckily a friendly head of security agreed with us enough that an organised pen would indeed be a much better idea. If you don’t ask you don’t get. Disaster averted on the evening of Friday 18th November 2011.

That first week we (press photographers….) were torn to shreds by witness after witness and television loved it. We were getting a kicking and we decided we had to fight back. That’s when we decided it was time that The Leveson Inquiry listened to our side of the story. Things were going to change for us whether we liked it or not, so we had to be listened to. We had to have a seat at the table when the changes were going to be made in the future.

Fast forward a couple of months later and there we were being shown around the Court. We were told we were third up to give evidence, so sat in from the start. It was running over and it was hot, so we were having difficulty staying awake, but it did give us the chance to acclimatise. We never made it on in the morning session, but we were told we’d be first on the stand for the afternoon session. It was starting to get tense again. When we went in, the Court rose and Neil went to the stand to take the Oath. This was it.

Neil was questioned on our submission by Carine Patry Hoskins, Counsel to The Leveson Inquiry. Contrary to what we expected, she explained before we went in what she would be asking us about and pretty much stuck to the script.

It was tremendously difficult to stop myself from sticking my hand up and chipping in. I wonder what my fate would’ve been had I done so….maybe a night in the cells!? We followed every word, muttering between ourselves about answers and generally cheering Neil on under our breath. I sat through most of it with my head down, concentrating. It was going well, but at any moment the Counsel could turn on us.

There were a few points that were at the forefront of my mind. Points that could cause us trouble. I was worried we’d be accused of having members that were involved in some of the worst examples that some of the previous witnesses had mentioned. My thought was, why would we have asked to come here if we thought our members were involved? I was worried they’d ask us what we thought of Paul Dacre the Daily Mail’s Editor-In-Chief’s ideas about changing the Press Card system. We hadn’t had the chance to really tackle this because we’d been in ‘prep’ meetings the day before when he was actually giving evidence. We are totally behind the United Kingdom Press Card Authority, but we had to make sure we didn’t alienate a man who has a lot of clout in our industry. We had to make sure we didn’t appear to think his ideas were rubbish, even if we did. The UKPCA already does most of what he was asking a Press Card authority to do. We had to make sure we were not led down the road of slagging him off. We were there to make friends and get a seat at the table, not make enemies. I was worried how they would react to our criticism about television getting access to events like The Leveson Inquiry whilst press photographers are left literally out in the cold. This was raised, but I think they felt it was a fair point. They certainly failed to pursue the negative side of the suggestion.

My greatest fear was the comment in our submission about “people involved in news stories, not having the sense to stop and talk for two minutes”. To be honest, I’d forgotten about this comment until it came up. I thought that it really made us sound like we think people should do what we want, or face the consequences. Neil played a blinder. He said, it was all about changing the public’s attitude to it. Brilliant and true. Why shouldn’t someone stop and talk, why should they run away!? All we want is a photograph, not to hijack their soul.

Lord Leveson thanked us at the beginning of the session for attending The Leveson Inquiry to give evidence and at the end of the session he commented, (paraphrasing….) “the problem is not with professional photographers and journalists, but professional photographers and journalists are needed for the solution”.

After all our hard work lobbying to attend, we’d finally had our seat at the top table.

The BPPA and The Leveson Inquiry in 34 minutes.

Three submissions, a lot of reading and an awful lot of discussion came down to a 34 minute appearance at The Leveson Inquiry today (Tuesday 7th February) afternoon. Was it worth it? Right here, right now the answer has to be a truly resounding ‘YES’. Our case has been outlined before; we wanted to impress on the world that there can be a huge difference between a professional press photographer and a bloke with a posh camera.

We wanted to make Lord Justice Leveson and his Inquiry aware that we are willing and able to be to be part of the process of finding solutions to the issues highlighted in the early evidence at the hearings. Most of all we wanted to highlight the four-pronged plan that we have developed to help ensure that photographs published in the UK news media have been checked thoroughly so that they comply with every law and ethical code that applies to that media in that situation.

Sitting there in the same chair that Paul Dacre, Editor in chief of the Daily Mail had occupied for the best part of four hours yesterday and that the familiar cast list of celebrities had sat in right back at the start of the formal hearings in November was more than a little nerve-wracking. Not so much on a personal level – but representing hundreds of honest, hard working and highly professional colleagues. If that wasn’t bad enough, the editors of The Times and The Sun were up after us!

We really cannot talk about today in terms of winning and losing but it seems that we have made our point and we know that Lord Justice Leveson himself said that

“Mr Turner, thank you very much indeed. Responsible photographers, like responsible journalists, are not part of the problem and they do need to be part of the solution. Thank you very much.”

If, after today, the industry takes us more seriously and if, after today, we are allowed a voice on issues that directly affect the lives, careers and reputations of professional press photographers then maybe, just maybe we can think in terms of a (small) victory.

Of course the 34 minute white knuckle ride was made a lot easier by the quality of our argument and the sentiments in our submissions.

The BPPA’s Board worked hard on this and there are a lot of people to say ‘thank you’ to. So to everyone who contributed, everyone who tweeted and re-tweeted about our submissions and liked our Facebook page. Thank you. It turns out that it was a pleasure to be your representative!

Links to the content of our appearance: TRANSCRIPT VIDEO

“You paparazzi scum!”

Image

I’ve been a news photographer for nearly twenty years and during that time I’ve covered hundreds, if not thousands of stories that have appeared in tabloid newspapers and magazines around the world.

I’m British and have been living and working in Los Angeles, USA for the past four and a half years.

Like many news photographers out there my work consists of a healthy mix of celebrities. I recently covered Prince Harry’s time in the USA, plenty of showbiz like the Beckhams for example, the death of Michael Jackson and hard news including the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.

My career came out of an equal passion for photography and news. When I quit the security of a steady job as an electronic sales engineer back in the early 1990′s and handed back the company car, tie and pension, I knew I was following the right path for me. It was more of a calling than a job.

It didn’t take for me long to realise which photographs would pay the highest bounty. A front page in the Times or Telegraph would pay maybe £500 if I was lucky, where-as a front page and a double page spread inside a red top tabloid or a glossy showbiz magazine would pay ten times that amount. It doesn’t take a business genius to realise which photos I should be chasing.

I quickly became a regular shifter at many of the national Daily and Sunday papers, including the Daily Mail, The News of the World and the Sun and in 2000 I set up an agency, First News, where I had a number of photographers working for me.

As a photographer or agency boss you have to  balance your output between work you are passionate about and work that pays the bills.

Jobs like catching James Boffey, a banned driver from Liverpool, getting back behind the wheel of his car after killing a cyclist, made the front page of the Daily Mail. It gave me great satisfaction actually nailing the scroat, but hardly paid a fortune. Or spending £2000 of my own money to investigate and photograph victims of people trafficking in Romania, a feature that never sold.

I’d worked on a number of stories in the USA and always felt I’d like to live there. In 2007 I got my visa and moved to Los Angeles where I  joined a celebrity news agency.

In early 2008 some news organizations focused their attention on me. Whilst working for the agency I took the decision to quit my job as I felt uneasy about the constant and reckless pursuit of the singer Britney Spears. At the time Spears appeared to be going through some kind of mental breakdown, shaving her head, driving on high speed late night runs through the Hollywood Hills, hotly pursued by the paparazzi. I felt it could end in the death of Spears.

There was no story, the paparazzi’s pursuit of Spears became the story. 

The competition for the latest set of photographs of Britney was very hot, with hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid for a great exclusive. The paparazzi  were ruthless. It wasn’t unknown for the paps to drive on the wrong side of the street and jump red lights. Stories of paps having their tyres slashed and cars attacked by the competition were not uncommon.

I stepped away from this madness.

I stepped away because like most news photographers out there whether working for a tabloid, or a broadsheet, like any sane person I looked at the actions of the paps and felt this clearly was not news photography. Someone was going to die.

Don’t get me wrong, I still cover celebrity news stories and photograph them on a regular basis, but there are ways of doing things. I don’t hound them with a short zoom lens twelve inches from their nose. I don’t chase them, jumping red lights and driving on the wrong side of the road, like a pack of hounds hunting a fox. The public have a huge appetite for celebrity news and photographs, this will never change, you only need to look at any newsstand to see that vast numbers of glossy magazines fighting for the hard earned cash of its readers. Not to mention the thousands of celebrity websites that are now financially trying to justify their existence.

I’ve watched with interest the Leveson Inquiry and the blanket condemnation of all tabloid news photographers. The news photographers have had no opportunity to reply to the allegations cast upon them.

Like many genuine news photographers out there I’ve been offended by many of the allegations levelled at us during the inquiry, often by people who fight for exposure within every column inch they can get.

In the world of news photography there are a small element who take unreasonable steps to obtain a sellable photograph. Sometimes attempting to incite a reaction in their subject, other times pursuing the subject relentlessly without a news agenda, just in hope getting a sellable frame and earn some money from that days snapping. There are of course a number of agencies that encourage this, their only concern is to get a photograph that sells.

A clear distinction must be made between this group and the large majority of news photographers. We do not spit on subjects, bang on their cars, approach their children, jump red lights, chase at high speed or manipulate photographs. We are there as impartial observers to observe and record in a dignified manner and in a manner that no reasonable celebrity or member of the public could have an issue with.

What is equally concerning is how the industry itself doesn’t differentiate between the good the bad and the ugly. How many times do we see TV images of the paparazzi, as they always call us, chasing a celebrity? Let’s not forget that the reason we are seeing those TV images is because the TV camera was plotted beside us and to see a broadsheet this week use a photograph of what is clearly a designated press pen and refer to the photographers inside it as paparazzi, it would appear we need to enlighten even our own picture desks as to what a paparazzi is.

The work of the ruthless paparazzi and the agencies that encourage their behaviour, in order to maximize their income must be condemned.  And the work of many hundreds of responsible news photographers must be recognized as work far removed from the small minority.

Nick Stern is a freelance news photographer, based in Los Angeles, USA and member of The British Press Photographer’s Association.

Initial submission to The Leveson Inquiry by The BPPA.

The BPPA today wrote to the Leveson Inquiry and asked to be added to the list of those giving evidence. We did this because of the one-way traffic from witnesses criticising photographers and because of the dreadfully lazy television journalism that has painted each and every one of us as the worst kind of citizen paparazzi. This is what we said:

Initial submission to The Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice & ethics of the press by The British Press Photographers’ Association

Introduction

The British Press Photographers’ Association (The BPPA) has amongst its membership a large percentage of the country’s front line news photographers. Founded in 1984 to ‘promote and inspire the highest ethical, technical and creative standards from within the profession’, The BPPA has a unique perspective on the current practices and market place for press photographs in the United Kingdom. Press photographers led the way when it came to establishing the guidelines by which all UK Police forces (via ACPO) work alongside the media in the field and we would endeavour to bring a similar problem solving approach to the Inquiry.

Request to be added to the list of Core Participants

In the light of the nature of the evidence being given to The Inquiry by various celebrity witnesses, the association’s board took the decision that we needed to make a submission and to seek to give evidence in person. In reading the list of persons and organisations that may be considered as Core Participants, the association believes that the weight of commentary during the opening weeks of the Inquiry makes press photographers “subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in its report.” In the light of this, we would contend that The BPPA is able to give evidence on the issues of culture, practices and ethics, which the Inquiry might not otherwise be able to obtain.

The BPPA can speak for press photographers who, because of the highly fragmented nature of our employment may well speak to the BPPA when they would not speak to the Inquiry. The Inquiry should know that our membership breaks down as follows:

• Directly employed – 24%
• Employed on fixed or rolling contracts 12%
• Working through agencies as freelance photographers 18%
• Entirely freelance 46%

As a profession attracting a great deal of criticism we would further contend that such a diverse group will not be represented in an equitable and fair way at an inquiry where such representation is both vital for a large and key group of professionals, and for the Inquiry’s ability to hear and consider the widest range of informed opinions.

Press photographers are, for various reasons, the very visible face of the UK print media. Because of this we are regularly subjected to false attribution and accusations as well as verbal abuse from members of the public and from a significant number of people who work in the celebrity, entertainment and even law and order industries. The continuous use of pejorative terms such as ‘paparazzi’ about the widest spectrum of news photographers harms our collective reputations.

Our Evidence

The BPPA would seek to provide evidence on the following:

• 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 is causing
• The dangers of introducing French style privacy laws
• The need for cooperation between all parts of the media to establish clear and enforceable ethical guidelines and codes of behaviour and etiquette
• Our proposals to help control the problems of unethical photographers and citizen journalists with cameras

The association believes that it would be able to make a very positive contribution to The Inquiry by providing a more accurate, up-to-date and informed assessment than any other organisation on the specific topics where we have expertise.