Photographers fight back at Leveson Inquiry (update)

Responsible press photographers are not just ‘some bloke with a posh camera’, says a UK trade body as it launches an attack on ‘amateur paparazzi’ at the Leveson Inquiry.

Responsible press photographers are not just ‘some bloke with a posh camera’, says a UK trade body as it launches an attack on ‘amateur paparazzi’ at the Leveson Inquiry.

Neil Turner, vice-chairman of the British Press Photographers’ Association (BPPA) told the inquiry into press ethics: ‘It’s overuse of the term paparazzi that is the primary problem.’

The BPPA was called as a witness to the inquiry after the organisation expressed dismay at the continual negative portrayal of press photographers by previous witnesses.

However, Turner opposes any suggestion that photographers should be licensed.

[NEWS UPDATE: Speaking at the inquiry, Heather Mills, the former wife of Sir Paul McCartney, today (9 February) called for all photographers to be licensed, according to a BBC report]

‘People who look like press photographers, use much the same equipment – and whose pictures often end up in the press – are causing much of the problem,’ Turner told the inquiry on Tuesday.

He said that the term ‘paparazzi’ was used with ‘ridiculous abandon’ and blamed ‘lazy’ descriptions by the media for the public perception of press photographers.

He added: ‘All our members will tell you that they frequently get called the paparazzi, usually in a jokey way.'

In its statement to the inquiry, the BPPA describes such photographers as ‘celebrity chasing amateur paparazzi’, or ‘stalkerazzi’ - a label used by media commentator Roy Greenslade.

'Illegal and unethical'

Turner, a photographer himself, claimed that their behaviour is at times ‘illegal’ and ‘unethical’.

‘They involve chasing people down the road, driving dangerously/illegally, and initiating a reaction and response from people to get different facial expressions in a completely over-the-top way.’

Turner said he once heard of a case where a photographer had provoked a fight with a subject and another photographer took a photo of the dispute. Afterwards the photographers ‘split the money’.

‘Professional photographers are exactly that – they do it for a living. They do it professionally - they are not just some bloke with a posh-looking camera,’ added Turner.

In its Leveson submission, the BPPA stressed that press photographers’ duties can comprise a variety of shoots including coverage of sports events, press conferences and war and famine.

Speaking afterwards to Amateur Photographer (AP), Turner emphasised that his comments were not targeted at photography enthusiasts. ‘We don’t want to stop amateur, hobbyist photographers from having their pictures published,’ he told AP.

The inquiry’s chairman, Lord Justice Leveson, acknowledged the role of ‘responsible photographers’.

‘Like responsible journalists, they are not part of the problem… they do need to be part of the solution,’ Leveson said.

Turner said the BPPA would object to the introduction of a French-style privacy law, suggesting this could mean politicians hiding private matters which it would be in the public interest to expose.

Turner also urged people in the news to be more relaxed about having their picture taken and encouraged organisers of events - including the Leveson Inquiry - to open their doors for photographers to take still images – a practice made less intrusive these days, he asserted, by the ability of cameras to be used in very low light.

In its conclusion, the BPPA proposed a four-pronged strategy for the future: first a series of tests for editors to prove that pictures for publication have been sourced ethically and legally; secondly, that pictures taken by those holding a UK Press Card should be given priority by publishers over those without; thirdly, ensure press cards are withdrawn for photographers breaching a code of conduct; and, finally, a credit-card-sized ‘pocket note’ to serve as a reminder of the rules to which photographers should adhere.

On the latter point, Leveson retorted that it may be difficult to encompass every point of law onto a single card, adding that publications have a ‘responsibility’ for what they publish.

Leveson Inquiry

A video of Neil Turner's submission to the Leveson Inquiry is available to watch on the inquiry's website (above)

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