An Open letter written by Chris Eades – a member of The BPPA’s Board in response to Professor Roy Greenslade’s inaccurate blog on The Media Guardian website:
Dear Mr Greenslade
I am writing on behalf of your photographic colleagues in the British Press Photographers’ Association to express our disappointment and frustration at your recent series of articles about “paparazzi” seeking to photograph Vicky Pryce while in prison.
I regret to say that the suppositions upon which you have based your article are for the most part untrue, with the result that your subsequent analysis and opinions are based on an ignorance of the facts.
When photographers sought to correct your mistakes and question your motivations in slurring your colleagues you responded not by seeking the truth, but by turning off comments on your blog to disable further criticism.
As someone who lectures in journalism, and presumes to lecture his peers on ethics, it is distressing that you have made no effort to substantiate the facts – but have chosen instead to rely on rumour, supposition and lazy stereotypes with the unfortunate result that you have thereby reinforced those stereotypes.
For your information we have laid out below the true events surrounding the taking of pictures of Pryce, and have sought to address the questions that you raise about the implication of these events.
In short – No laws were broken, the PCC code was adhered to and there is a strong case that a govt minister and his wife both being jailed for criminal offences is a valid news story, strengthened by the perception that Pryce is receiving preferential treatment by being transferred to open prison less than a week after being convicted.
You question the legitimacy of photographing convicted criminals in prison – but there is a long tradition of doing so. Myra Hindley, Jeffrey Archer, Sarah Tisdall, George Best, Rose West, Ernest Saunders, Maxine Carr, even Dr Crippen have all been photographed in prison.
If you think this is wrong then campaign to change the law, or the PCC code – but please don’t vilify your beleaguered photographic colleagues for legitimate news gathering.
We respectfully request a correction in full – with equal prominence to the original articles.
On behalf of the BPPA Committee
The true events surrounding the pictures on Pryce at Sutton Park prison are as follows.
On sunday 17th The Sun ran a story that Pryce had been transferred to an open prison after less than a week in prison. This is unusually soon for a prisoner, even on a short sentence, to be moved – and raises the legitimate question is Pryce receiving preferential treatment?
Five newspapers dispatched staff / regular freelances to the prison to try to obtain pictures of Pryce in her new surroundings. All of the photographers were news photographers, not paps, on wages for the day and acting under instruction of their respective picture desks.
(For clarity I define news photographers as those who photograph individuals in the news, as opposed to paparazzi who concentrate on celebrities. These may overlap but it is a good general distinction).
There are several points where pictures could be taken at Sutton Park, without the need to trespass on private property. The easiest of these is from the grounds of the church which overlook the rear of the prison.
Security staff at the prison became aware of photographers presence fairly early on the sunday, and came over to ask who they were and what they were doing. They were asked to not enter the prison grounds and to be relatively open with their activity so as not to cause security concerns. No request was made for them to leave.
On the Monday they were joined by two more photographers from Fame/Flynet – who joined the existing crowd in the church yard and on a footpath that provides a view of the front drive.
Photographers also met a man wearing a dog collar, who they assume to be the vicar. He passed the time of day with them but again did not at any time express concerns at their presence or request that they leave.
The photographers were openly present in the church grounds, in full view, and with the knowledge of both prison and church authorities.
On Wednesday 20th photographers spotted Pryce being escorted to an outbuilding which they took to be a library or education centre, roughly a hundred yards from the church yard – and took pictures which subsequently appeared online and in the next days Sun, Mirror, Mail and Telegraph. All photographers present got images. Flynet were fortunate to get the best angle, and subsequently the majority of the publications.
These pictures were taken openly from from the churchyard, with the knowledge of church and prison authorities – neither newspaper or agency photographer used subterfuge or trespassed on prison property. Very long lenses were not used, the distance being relatively short.
After the first of these picture appeared online the PCC forwarded a letter from Pryces family asking that photographers withdraw. The photographers had infact already pulled back, having got their picture. To the best of my knowledge none has returned to the prison since.
I know this account to be true – as I was there. I understand that Jim Bennett has also explained much of this to you in person.
ADDRESSING THE CRITICISM
In your first article you publish a series of untruths and make a number of suppositions as well as posing a number of questions.
You state that prison officers “prison officers asked the paparazzi to go away and allow the woman to serve her eight-month sentence for perverting the course of justice in peace” – This is factually untrue, no such request was made at any stage, either by prison officers or by the prison officers press liaison officer who came over for a chat.
You state that – “There is, of course, no proof that any newspaper commissioned the photographers. It is highly likely that the snappers turned up on their own initiative.” This supposition is untrue, at the point when this article was written the ONLY photographers in attendance were in fact working directly for papers.
You also pose the questions:
Is it in the public interest to take pictures of a person in jail?
Is it against the editors’ code of practice?
Is there a law against it?
Photographers working for papers do not as a rule get asked for their views on ethics, these being generally reserved for greater minds in nice warm offices. We tend instead to deal with the practical application of the rules on the ground.
But in answer to your first question “Is it in the public interest to take pictures of a person in jail?” the consensus between those on the ground was that it was questionable whether Pryce was receiving preferential treatment – and as such was a valid news story. The majority of editors with access to the pictures agreed.
In answer to your second question “Is it against the editors’ code of practice?”
You yourself admit that you are unclear as to which part of the code this would breach. The PCC advisory draws newspapers attention to section 4 harassment which states “ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist.”
As I have explained nobody at any stage asked photographers to desist or leave – until the advisory was issued by the PCC, by which time the photographers had already got their pictures and departed.
SO in answer to your question – In our opinion the PCC code was studiously observed.
As to your third question “Is there a law against it?”
No there isn’t
So to sum up the pictures are arguably in the public interest, do not breach the PCC and are not against the law. You have every right to debate this view – but you should make clear that these decisions are made by our bosses, rather that choosing to stereotype and vilify your news gathering colleagues.
When your original article was published a number of photographers commented on your blog that you had the facts wrong which you chose to ignore – choosing instead to repeat your allegations a day or so later, but this time disabling comments to prevent anyone challenging your inaccurate and biassed account.
Furthermore, while we are debating journalism ethics, may I take the opportunity to deplore your decision to publish an unattributed and cowardly attack from an “anonymous” press photographer. An attack full of inaccuracies, from someone who wasn’t even there.
(we all know an anonymous source usually means “my mate in the office” or “I made up these quotes”).
How can you justify publishing a cowardly attack without verification while censoring responses from photographers who were there?