You may or may not be aware that following the phone hacking allegations at the (now deceased) News of the World paper, the Prime Minster announced Lord Justice Leveson would be leading a two pronged inquiry into phone hacking.
One part of the inquiry would focus on investigating the allegations of wrongdoing by the media as well as the police while the other part would review the regulations that govern the press examining “the culture, practices and ethics of the press; their relationship with the police; the failure of the current system of regulation; the contacts made, and discussions had, between national newspapers and politicians; why previous warnings about press misconduct were not heeded; and the issue of cross-media ownership.”
This enquiry is taking place now and it should be no surprise that attention was turned to the celebrity “paparazzi” photographers (or paps). I decided to write this after being asked a number of times my thoughts as I am a “red carpet photographer” or a “celebrity photographer” and so I must be closer to these “paparazzi”. This annoyed me and I will try to show why..
Firstly, just about all of my dealings with celebrities are at organised photo-calls or photo-shoots I can only think of twice where I have photographed a “celebrity” in a public place, even then, both times, I asked, they smiled, I shot, we went our separate ways. Why am I at pains to point this out? There is a most definite public perception that any photographer who photographs “celebrities” must be a “pap”, it seems to be forgotten that they attend public events, that are organised (partly as a perk and partly because if they are not seen out regularly they fall down the “celebrity ladder”).
Secondly, it is quite obvious in some quarters that even other press photographers (so called “hard news” photo-journalists) were lumping all the Red Carpet with the “paps” where as in fact “hard news” photographers are often seen waiting on doorsteps, crowding round cars etc, all actions which are deemed to be the domain of the “pap”.
So why did I title this “Just What is News?” ?
- What percentage of the population do you think could name their MP?
- What percentage would realise it if their MP was named on the front page of a tabloid for having an affair (without reading further of finding out in a local paper)?
- What percentage of the population know who exactly who David Beckham is? or Lewis Hamilton?
Maybe it’s a sad fact of our society but we know what the answers are to these questions. We know that if a photographer photographs David Beckham out wearing a £29.99 unbranded suit from a local supermarket it will probably have more influence on more peoples lives than if an unknown MP from a small constituency is caught with their trousers down. You might not care, I might not care but there are a huge number that do and I’m sorry but that makes Beckham and many other celebrities news and it sells!
You might think then that I support the “paps”. No I believe in privacy as much as I believe in the free press. My view is this:
They/we are all photo-journalists, gathering news images. Some are good, some are great, some are awful and some cross boundaries that should not be crossed. I see it exactly the same as the issues with the phone-hacking. There are lines, boundaries, laws that should not be crossed wether you are a member of the public or a member of the press, wether you carry a camera or a pen.
The problem of public perception is that when photographers swamp someone in the news, it is highly visible. In fact it is usually made visible by the Television cameras that are also swamping the subject (but of course, that does not seem to count). Writers crossing boundaries happens in private, in offices, out of sight, which is probably why it seems so shocking when it is revealed.
The annoying thing is, we already have enough controls in place if only they were used. To be worth anything, a photograph needs to have a market, It needs to be purchased, it has to be published. Any picture you see in the press (should) have been brought and paid for. If the picture editors and editors did not publish unethically or illegally obtained images and stories, the freelancers providing them would have to provide from within the guidelines that we already have laid out.
You might think I am passing the buck, in a way I am but only to the whole industry, we should not be hanging others out to dry, the problem in the press runs right through it, we all have a responsibility to behave ethically, legally and within the guidelines that already exist.