Should the BPPA be called to the Leveson Inquiry?
Interesting exchange on Twitter with Edmond Terakopian this morning about the Leveson inquiry and its refusal to engage with the British Press Photographer’s Association. Edmond feels very strongly that the inquiry should engage, I’m not so convinced that the issue that is important to the BPPA is central to the business of the inquiry.
Firstly, I absolutely agree with Edmond and the BPPA that a distinction has to be made between the honest professional news photographer and the opportunistic, semi-legal paparazzi. This is a question of preserving the integrity of a profession. A profession which is under threat in the public perception from the amount of negative coverage attracted by the activities of the paparazzi. News photography is a serious profession and like any other serious profession, the consideration of ethics is a fundamental part of the practice. Many of the great photographs of our time have been taken by news photographers. Not so many by the paparazzi.
Paparazzi are rarely illegal. There are ethical questions around privacy and confusingly, the letter of the law differs depending what country you happen to be in. The hounding of reluctant participants is abhorrent, however we should not forget that many celebrities, including some members of the royal family, actively collude with the press in order to maximise their exposure. There is an argument that says that the only way to stop the paparazzi is for people to stop buying the magazines that feature their work. Interestingly enough there are signs that the public’s appetite for photographs of so called celebrities on the wane. Big Brother’s ratings were a shadow of their former glory, I hear that the circulation of Hello is down on last year.
I do believe that the Leveson inquiry is doing an excellent job of unmasking the culture of illegality that apparently pervades the tabloid press. There are powerful corporate interests with very clever lawyers and a lot of money at stake here. The inquiry cannot afford to lose focus for a second. It is here that my thinking diverges from Edmond’s. I believe the vested interests behind the tabloids would welcome the inclusion of the BPPA in the inquiry because it would shift the focus onto an issue which is non-threatening to them.
Although the testimony of Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller and the McCanns has been highly critical of and raised serious concerns about the antics of the paparazzi, I see this as being of secondary focus to the main job of the inquiry which is surely to establish whether or not there is a culture of illegality in the tabloid press. I believe that the issue of recognition for a serious profession can be given the attention it merits only after the layers of obfuscation put up by the executives and lawyers of News International have been stripped away (for example, James Murdoch’s ludicrous assertion when faced with the irrefutable fact of an email advising him of concerns about the practice of hacking – that he didn’t read it because it was on a Blackberry, at the weekend.)
The confusion in the public mind between professional and paparazzi is doing serious damage to the profession, of that there is no doubt. Some members of the public are also policemen and security guards who may choose to treat a serious professional (or even a serious amateur) like a paparazzi for example. however, I’m concerned that while the attention of the inquiry is focused on the machinations of the business that supports that profession, there is a risk that the inclusion of testimony from the BPPA may distract from the central purpose of the inquiry and that would only help let the perpetrators of these activities and their employers off the hook. My hope is that the Leveson inquiry will call the BPPA in due course. I believe, notwithstanding the concerns I have set out here, that the BPPA’s voice should be heard and in Edward Terakopian they have a practitioner of sufficient stature and influence to ensure that that voice will be heard.
Reference: Edmond Terakopian – http://photothisandthat.co.uk/2011/12/14/leveson-inquiry-says-no-to-the-bppa/
Originally posted on Electrical Image by Chris Wright