Saturday, 3 December 2011

Leveson inquiry - some balance please

I haven’t blogged in quite a while – my apologies.  Like many of us I have been struggling to get work, and complete it when I have found it, and I have also been overwhelmed by the copyright situation and current discussions going on.  It was this piece in the Guardian yesterday, on top of discussion that photographers have been having amongst themselves about the unbalanced mention of snappers/smudgers news photographers at Leveson, that bring fingers back to keyboard.

 Leveson inquiry: 'Photographers facing unfair criticism'

Whilst I have huge sympathy for those who have had their lives quite clearly interfered with by a very obtrusive British Press, it is not every journalist or photojournalist who engages in this kind of activity: none of my friends do, and few if any of the thousands of photographers I have regular contact with around the country.  But they are out there and I have seen them work.  :-)

I have been a professional photographer all my working life, Although I have very small interactions these days - since about 2003, the large part of my career has been dealing with newspapers, the large majority the nationals say 70-30%.  And whilst it is true I have never been a staffer, I have been a contract Freelance for some years with the Sunday Telegraph and I have undertaken countless thousand commissions for the rest of Fleet Street, and there isn't a single Fleet Street Picture desk I have not had a large amount of contact with over an extend period between say the late seventies and 2003 I worked for the ST picture desk for some thirteen years as a sports photographer, and also and subsequently, ran my own sports photo agency.  In all this time I was primarily a sports photographer working all over the world but on occasion I also did what is known as ‘news’ work and sometimes features, not just photographing sporting events and people.  I work mostly on my own, but also worked as part of a team, and certain situations require that everyone has to work as part of a ‘pack’.

I have seen some incredibly professional behavior from my colleagues most of the time, but I have it is true also seen behavior that has made me very angry - and I am not a person to get riled easily.  Any one who makes me angry must be behaving very badly indeed.

I have seen photographers blatantly flout police instructions and lines in order to get the picture that their colleagues could not get because they followed police instructions.  I have equally experienced photographers abandon image taking in order to help people who have been caught up in situations and desperately needed help - always a difficult decision to make, but one thankfully that most of us do not have to make.

I have witnessed photographers being ritually picked on by crowds at many different events, including my first ever ‘Premier League’ game where we, (photographers), were pelted by sharpened coins and darts from the crowd (Everton V Tottenham for the record).

The worse thing regularly seen is the ‘chancers’.

Like many people I have had a low opinion of much of the headlined material and what was written in the News of the World, the Sun, the Star, and also at times the Mirror, the People, the Express and the Mail, the Mail on Sunday, Sunday Express, and despite their high(er) brow status the Times, Telegraph, their associated Sundays and even on occasion the Guardian and Observer have made me wince.  I loathe so called kiss and tell journalism, and the sort of Journalism where a headline is derived to sell a newspaper and it turns out the content has been poorly researched if at all, and it is mostly lies.  I hate the two-inch capital headlines and the three pages of slander, apologised for months latter with a two-inch column retraction hidden in the middle of the paper.

Despite all this, most of the time the people I have dealt with on Picture and occasionally news desks have always appeared to be decent people, and hardly ever anything other than totally professional.

I have never understood how with all the professionals I deal with, where that the nastiness and dishonesty comes from.

Having said that I do recall over my time a number of situations, which I now recognise as being at the very least 'dodgy'. 
  • I do recall being sent to a Millwall home match once and being asked to specifically photograph crowd violence - football action not required. 
  • I recall another situation when there was a bomb scare at the Grand Notional when the photographic team for the Sunday Telegraph was being urged by the Picture editor (safe in London) to stay inside the police barrier and remain in the ground whilst everyone was being evacuated.
  • Equally I remember the huge effort being made to work on behalf of photographers by that very same Picture editor when a photographer had been arrested in a difficult situation overseas.
  • I have seen photographers behave appallingly at photo shoots, when most agree to stay behind one position to the benefit of all, and one 'chancer' decides to flout the agreement at the last moment and get pictures that are unique and at the same time turn over everyone else because all other pictures have the flauntee in them as he dashed in front of everyone else.
  • I have seen photographers (staffers) sharing images, and seen the same image given nine different by lines in as many papers.
  • I have seen my own images given a staffers by lines.

Given a little more time I am sure I can come up with many more incidents, anecdotes and similar remembrances.

I do recall that for the first fifteen years of my career, I refused to supply the Sun and the News of the World, out of disgust, but that due to a series of situations I ended up working with the NoW desk in the nineties, and in my experience the News of the World Picture desk was the most professional I ever dealt with, and that they were also consistently the best payers.  Ironic or what?

Most of the time, when it comes down to badly behaved photographers, and there are a few, it is the rogues and chancers, and increasingly these days the paps - not experienced professionals but people chasing big bucks offered by some papers for the very pictures that are abhorred by Leveson contributors (including me it must be said).  Many of these paps are out of work , acquire a camera and follow the myth that professional 'photojournalists' are regularly paid big money - (we are most emphatically not), and confuse news work with hassling and chasing after celebrities.

The nearest I have ever done to this was the very occasional doorstep work, and even that I found out of place and uncomfortable most of the time.

I would suggest that the large part of the problem comes from two sources.  An unregulated press, which seems to have pressured itself into publishing more invasive so called news, with less checking and poor verification than we have ever seen before, along with the incursion into the industry of operators who work with few guidelines and observe no rules.  If every photographer, journalist and Editorial desk insisted on working to (say) the National Union of Journalist ethical guidelines then this inquiry would never have been needed in the first place.

And I would say now as I have said before it is only a very small minority you cross the line, but do it regularly.  if they are allowed to get away with it then it will happen again, and again, and again.  If we don't punish transgressors then can we really be surprised at the results?

Self-regulation?  Don't make me laugh.  It didn't work for bankers and it didn't work for the UK press.

I would like my voice heard in this please, and I know there are hundreds if not thousands of professional photojournalists who would echo my thoughts.


Pete Jenkins

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