Another open letter to Professor Greenslade

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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.


Chris Eades
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.
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?

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thebppaAnother open letter to Professor Greenslade

Comments 31

  1. paul connew

    A detailed BPPA response to Prof Greenslade/Media Guardian that deserves proper response. If no trespass involved in securing prison pix of Vicky Pryce, and given significance of story, hard to see an ethical or operational objection to the photographers conduct or the use of the photos by some papers. Easy to understand why Pryce’s family didn’t like publication, but they cannot be the arbiters. Ultimately this was a matter of individual editor judgement and certainly not a clearcut breach of either the PCC code or the law. Paul Connew, media commentator&former ed Sunday Mirror, dep ed Daily Mirror

  2. Psi

    @ dg28
    “The suggestion that preferential treatment was given came from The Sun.”
    Are you sure? Or did the impression rather than the suggestion?

  3. Psi

    @ Student
    One other thing, you may claim that the tabloids go over the top at times (which they have).
    On this story if you look at the Sun’s article there is enough information in there to have come to the over hyped claims that you have. They have their angle and want to give an impression but they are smart and have not made the specific claim you and Chris Eades have.
    Tabloids are clever and will exploit your confirmation bias, you demonstrated this well as you latched on to the (intentional) impression given and then discarded the information they provided about prisoner allocation (admittedly at the end of the article). They gave you all the information you needed to come to an unbiased opinion and you came up with a biased one.
    Tabloids may read like they were written by emotional children but the staff there are probable a lot smarter than you. Remember that when you read one of their articles, and look for what they are giving you with the intention that you will discard it as irrelevant fluff.

  4. Psi

    @ Student
    I think you are confusing freedom of the press with freedom of speech (both are important), but we can leave that for another day.
    I do have a point that she is being treated the same way as other prisoners. The point is she is a simple case, so simple to process.
    Perhaps your legal training hasn’t included anything about risk in the criminal justice system yet:
    I make no insinuation that if she was poor she would have been treated differently.
    If she had a drug/alcohol/literacy/mental problem that would need to be assessed (which can cause delays due to availability of staff etc).
    If someone has a problem they should be sent to an institution that has space in the programs that deal with the problem (space becoming available can take time, so can cause further delays).
    Her career is not transferable to being on “the run”, if she was an international money launderer (they can be rather rich btw) there would be a risk of flight so that risk factor would need to be weighed up by putting her in less secure location.
    So in conclusion, she has no special needs that have to catered for and is unlikely to be going anywhere so they will have tried to stick her in the first place that has space.
    If anyone else turned up with simple needs and low flight risk they would probably find themselves in a Cat D rather quickly too. I believe that is vital, given the costs involved, to put prisoners where they can be most cheaply held and rehabilitated. I can’t find the figures but about 10 years ago the figure that was banded about for a Cat A prisoner was £100,000 pa (though I think that source was a tabloid), Cat D is the opposite end of the spectrum. The prison service has to be efficient and effective, people are being taxed on their hard earned money to hold these people there is no need to do it inefficiently.
    Your claim that:
    “But would we be able to have this discussion if she hadn’t […] then had pictures taken of her in prison to discuss was she getting preferential treatment and I would argue she is”
    Well we could have had the discussion about if her treatment was the right one with just a photos of the prison, there was no need for ones of her in it. If fact the pictures of her at East Sutton Park make the place look rather less pleasant than just using a library photo of the original building and comparing it to Holloway. So yes we can have the discussion without the need for further pictures. As you have already pointed out you have no knowledge of how prisoner allocation works in the prison system, so your belief of “preferential treatment,” I have to assume, is based upon prejudice against the individual and you have extended that to make claims (that they give preferential treatment) against the staff in the prison service. If you wish to go beyond being student of Law and to work in the field you may want to learn to rely on evidence, your personal suppositions are not persuasive.

  5. Psi

    @ Student
    You appear to have missed the point. You may want to decide if you want to have your cake or to eat it. Is your primary concern if something is “Legal” or of it is “Right.” You refer to the ECHR but below make a fuss about a free press. The ECHR has not over turned restriction on the press in other European countries so restricting the press is “Legal” which you seem to be most worried about. I think press censorship is “wrong” / “imorral” / “dangerous” which is how I prefer to approach things. There are plenty of examples through history when things that were terrible were “legal” so perhaps when your textbooks seems a little less exciting you can come and engage with the real world, and the harder decisions in life.
    A photo cannot show how a decision is made, however if you read the Sun article, they bothered to include information that would inform their reader so they could perhaps get that the treatment wasn’t “preferential” even if that was the angle they were spinning. However you and Chris Eades do not include that same information. I think the Sun has given better coverage of this than this response, some people may want to provide an extra comment to in their information to ensure they were not worse at informing than a tabloid.
    If the bppa get around to approving my response to dg28 below you can see the point.
    As to your point about the 7pm news, you appear to have missed the point again, people’s concern is that an individual is filmed / photographed in prison not who did the filming/photographing. I would have concerns about it being done in a mental institution or a hospital (both normally public facilities) I would not be happy for the BBC to do it and unhappy with the Mail, I think the act not the actor count, if you think differently you have a lot to learn.

  6. Jamie N Law Student

    Freedom of the Press was a wonderful thing. Do you see how we have been able to have a discussion about whether a high powered women was being treated specially above the law. You may have a point that she is being treated as any other, but if she would have been a poor person, have drug alcohol problems you insinuate she wouldn’t be moved? That’s an injustice in society. But would we be able to have this discussion if she hadn’t got in touch with two newspapers sought to end her ex husbands career(successfully) then had pictures taken of her in prison to discuss was she getting preferential treatment and I would argue she is. Because she is a literate professional and therefore shouldn’t serve time in a harsher environment, Thank-god we had a press which will raise these issues even if they did go over the top at times.

  7. Jamie N Law Student

    @Psi These are the Pryce emails with her contact at the times (Oakeshott ) she courted the press, she was warned of the potential legal situation and carried on. She was a high profile economist, who sought to end a high profile politicians career, that’s inviting intrusion.
    The point of showing photo’s is it illustrates the type of prison she is in now, which allows Joe public who may not know the difference between them what it looks like and how she is in it. And illustrates the story, all things which are allowed under Human Rights case law. You can’t show a picture of someones mind making a decision, but you can show the outcome of the decision and let people decide. If this would have been a new’s reporter for the 7pm news no one would complain a them filming across from the prison…

  8. Psi

    Quick carification:
    “I have no sympathy for any level of intrusion in to his life”
    should have read:
    “I have no sympathy FOR HIM for any level of intrusion in to his life”

  9. Psi

    No, my argument is with you and your claim as to what is “TRUTH” the Sun is very careful it does not use the phrase “preferential treatment” it gives an impression and allows you to draw that conclusion, then at the end includes the information about prisoner categorisation.
    I have no problem with the Sun’s report it is skewed to give the sensationalist angle, but that is what tabloid journalism is about, it includes the facts which allow you to understand that the process is, to try and get the low risk prisoners out to the cheaper to run prisons, asap.
    You have read the article (or that of other papers) and taken the slant but not included the full information the original journalist did.
    I am not suggesting the photographers did what Roy Greenslade claimed, as that appears to be shoddy reporting, but your defence against his claims goes beyond where the Sun did.
    Read my (rather hasty) explanation in response to Peter Kreig about how the prison allocation system and then read the Sun article (they are clever enough to know not to step over the line), perhaps search the article for your phrase “preferential treatment” in their article. I suggest they imply but do not claim what you have claimed.
    You are right to criticise Roy Greenslade as he made claims that do not match up to the evidence, but then you in responding to him also make a claim that does not match the facts either. If your claim is more sensationalist than the Tabloid that printed it then you probably ought to clarify your position.

  10. dg28

    The suggestion that preferential treatment was given came from The Sun. Whether or not the picture adds anything is a subjective judgement.

  11. Psi

    you claim under “the truth”
    “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?”
    from the Sun:
    “The source said: “With a prisoner who has a straightforward history with no previous convictions or police issues, it wouldn’t take longer than a few days to recategorise them.”
    Read more:
    You legitimately criticise Roy Greenslade for sloppy journalism (and I think you are right in that narrow regard), perhaps turn that criticism on your self and see if you would like to retract your verion of “The Truth.”

  12. Psi

    People are not able to make a judgement of if someone is getting “preferrential treatment” based upon photos, they need to know how decisions are made for other prisoners. Even the Sun has identified that she appears to be treated in line with the normal process for a low risk prisoner.
    Also has Pryce “courted” the press? Hune has and I have no sympathy for any level of intrusion in to his life but she gave interviews in her professional capacity on topics that related to her job. She wasn’t a Celebrity trying to sell interviews to Hello. If it turned out that she had been fiddling the figgers in here economic models then that would be more justification for intrusion.

  13. Psi

    As far as I can tell only the Sun has a quote from an actual prision service source (others are selectively quoting the Sun).
    gtom teh Sun:
    “The source said: “With a prisoner who has a straightforward history with no previous convictions or police issues, it wouldn’t take longer than a few days to recategorise them.”
    Read more:
    do some research!

  14. Psi

    “Vicky Pryce is actually the criminal here, not the photographers.”
    I must have missed the bit in the sentencing where the prisoner was told to serve time and be constantly photographed. Perhaps it was because the judge made no reference to being photographed. We don’t use the stocks anymore but if we wanted to put public humiliation in a sentence perhaps you wnat to suggest it be added to the sentencing guidelines.
    Of course Roy Greeslade is an idiot and claiming that photographers did things they did not illustrates this, however people making further claims only puts them in the catogory with him.

  15. Psi

    Really Peter, “She IS being treated leniently – so its a story.” That is a bold statement. I assume you understnd the pressures in the prison system and how the allocation process works?
    Most prisoners are automatically allocated to category B prisons after sentencing, however as a result there is a great deal of pressure on those prisons and they are more expensive to hold people in. So if possible the normal preference is to identify lower risk prisoners and move them to the lower grade prisons.
    That is across the population as a whole, Pryce as you may have noticed is a woman so is in the more pressurised part of the system where there are fewer places, so there is even more reason to move people asap.
    Pryce to me looks like a low risk prisoner, I assume she has no drug or alchohol problems, she is litterate, no previous attempts to obscond from prison. In addition she does not exactly have the best career skills fro escaping and surviving in the underworld, she is an internationally known economist who gets paid by large institutions to interpret economic infomation then here reputation is used to give weight to the assesments. She can’t really escape to a tropical and operate an off the grid Economics consultancy. Doesn’t strike me as a flight risk.
    So I suggest you look to identify the reasons behind the decision rather than jump to the conclusion that there are other forces at work…

  16. Nick Stern

    What else could a former tabloid editor do to make himself of interest to a broadsheet, other than slag of his former employers and colleagues?. Greenslade would be of no interest to anyone if he heralded the tabloids and fought the side of the popular UK media. He would very soon loose his position at the Guardian and possibly his teaching post. It would be very easy for anyone of us to ‘turn gamekeeper’ and in so doing gain column inches and a healthy following of chin stroking liberals all voicing disgust at the tabloid media.

  17. bob

    Has Roy Greenslade been got at by Hugh Grant? With Miliband and Cameron signing up to Levenson, I would vote for Farage if he promised to scrap the bill.

  18. dg28

    The point that we are making is that a Professor of Journalism, an ex-tabloid editor and a leading commentator on the industry has made a big mistake which could have a direct bearing on the way that news is reported. An error like this needs to be addressed and it would have been far better had The Guardian not blocked their comments pages for this article and the subsequent further comment that still failed to apologise. Using a term like vultures helps the debate how?

  19. alan scott

    What a load of prurient rubbish. Let criminals serve their due sentence and shove off, you vultures.

  20. Don J

    It’s the Graun. You can’t trust owt which appears in the Graun until the clarification and correction on page 84 corrects and clarifies the original mistake. Which was genuine and in good faith, natch.

  21. x

    I can’t understand how anyone can worry themselves about this. I’m a former journalist, but out sice 1997, and hold no brief for the press generally, or moneys in particular.
    I didn’t even see these photos aqnd have no personal interest in seeing them. It’s a bit ‘So what’, to me.
    That said, the way a few activists allied to egotists like Hugh Grant and Max Mosley are being allowed to wag the media dog is scary.
    The only people not bothered by this are the control freaks on the left.

  22. dg28

    We didn’t seek legal advice before allowing comment on our blog. Quite why The Guardian felt the need is another question that needs to be answered.

  23. ned ilson

    Quite right Mr Barker – and The Sunday Times should have asked Mr Huhne or his family if they minded awfully about the printing on the original points-dodge story.
    Vicky Pryce is actually the criminal here, not the photographers.
    But hey, why let that cloud your judgement when you swallow hook, line and sinker The Guardian’s lamentable portrayal and demonisation of decent journalists, photographers and freelancers working for newspapers that people actually want to read.
    Well done Chris Eades for daubing Roy Greenslade and The Guardian – that bastion of fact-checking and accuracy – with their own tar brush.

  24. Jamie N Law Student

    European Court on Human Rights has had this question come up on many occasions. Pictures count towards a story and there was no undue intrusion into her life. It is legitimate interest that VP was getting special interest due to her high profile nature. The pictures add to the overall story and message, furthermore how many people know what an open prison looks like? Pictures help illustrate it, apon seeing the conditions it can be left to the public to decide if she is getting preferrential treatment. She is a person of special interest and has courted the press in her en-devour to ruin her ex husband (see the VP emails) The expectation she can reasonably expect of privacy is a lower bar to your average citizen. And I repeat this has gone to European Court on Human Rights has had this question come up on many occasions and the consensus is public figures get a lower threshold of privacy, their past conduct on how they’ve courted the press effects that bar. And for permission in Public when was the last time you asked everyone around you to take pictures? Do you seek that every news broadcast shouldn’t be allowed to take pictures of politicians? Corporations? etc

  25. Bara Evans

    The letter makes the case that the press is a rabid dog that’s shitting on the carpet! On church property – but it’s OK because nobody asked us to leave! Pryce being jailed is a legitimate story – but why take photos of her secretly (she hadn’t given any consent). Etc. Etc. The measure of how bad the papers have got is that they can’t even see the problem.

  26. David S

    I also find it questionable taking pictures of her (or anyone else) in prison.
    You have not provided any basis for the suggestion that she received preferential treatment, and even if she had, the photo does not add anything. It is intrusive and insensitive to continue taking photos after someone is in prison. I love the qualification that no “very” long lenses were used! That’s all right then!

  27. Peter Krieg

    The point is she has been moved to a soft jail in a strangely short period of time, this makes it a news story for anyone interested in such things. personally if I am ever unfortunate enough to be banged up for the same offence I shall be expecting the exact same level of treatment, but lets be blunt we all know I wont get it becasue I dont have the right friends in the right places. She IS being treated leniently – so its a story.

  28. Graham Barker copywriter - Leeds & Manchester

    I’m not a friend or relation of Vicky Pryce but find your argument morally whiffy. Just because there is precedent for taking photos of serving prisoners doesn’t automatically make it right. Did any of the photos prove that VP is getting privileged treatment? Unlikely. Did you ask VP’s permission, or that of her family, to take photos of her? Obviously not. You (collectively) basically didn’t care, did you? You were just after a payday.

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