Access To The Front Line

May 01, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

CRASH1CRASH1A RTA on The Bryn Bend, Pontllanfraith circa 1977. A young man is rescued from the remains of his Ford Escort after drifting into the path of an oncoming car as he took the Bryn Bend. The car was a right off and the lad doesn't look good as he is removed unconscious from the vehicle. He made a full recovery though, even asking for prints of the accident as a momento.
This was taken in a time when access for the press was much more open than these days and as long as you didn't get in the way there was rarely a problem.
CRASH2CRASH2A RTA on The Bryn Bend, Pontllanfraith circa 1977. A young man is rescued from the remains of his Ford Escort after drifting into the path of an oncoming car as he took the Bryn Bend. The car was a right off and the lad doesn't look good as he is removed unconscious from the vehicle. He made a full recovery though, even asking for prints of the accident as a momento.
This was taken in a time when access for the press was much more open than these days and as long as you didn't get in the way there was rarely a problem.
A lot is spoken at the moment by photojournalists keen to document the sharp end of this Covid crisis, about the lack of access to the front lines where the story is really happening. There is a wish and a genuine need to document what is happening in our hospitals and care homes but access is being denied, some might claim legitimately so, as press access would cause unnecessary difficulties for authorities to cope with, in what are already difficult situations.

As an industry I believe we need to look to ourselves for the reasons behind this unco-operation. This attitude to the press is fuelled by the public perception of the business brought about by the actions of the red tops who thought they were above the law and used subterfuge and illegal means to create stories to entertain the nation. Had these stories been investigations into wrong doing in public or political life then maybe the end would have justified the means. But this wasn’t the case, it was done purely in the search for an entertaining read.

The result has been that whilst we are supposed to be an open and transparent society we have in fact become more closed than ever, more closed than many other countries, as has been demonstrated by the access given to photographers in Italy and Spain and elsewhere to document this crisis.

When I first started as a newspaper photographer back in 1975 access was rarely an issue. Indeed you could make a quick telephone call or sometimes simply turn up to be given access to pretty much anything. Journalists were respected by most and not viewed as the scavengers of society.

Here are a couple of pictures from 1977, when I was just two years into my career, that I think demonstrate a far more respectful attitude to the press. The fire, police and ambulance services had no issue with me arriving on the scene of a nasty road traffic accident and as long as I didn’t hinder their activities I was allowed to get in close to get my pictures. Things didn’t look good at the scene but they respected my journalistic judgement and gave me the access and time to document the story as it unfolded. Only when it had been ascertained that the young man had survived relatively unscathed were the pictures published in the following weeks paper with a story about a miracle escape. The young lad himself requested a set of pictures as a momento of his brush with death. I believe that at this time the professionalism of the press wasn’t in question and the emergency services on the scene knew that a journalistic judgement would made on whether to publish any images from the incident. 

Admittedly the whole thing wasn’t being confused by the presence of hoards of camera phone wielding members of the public eager to instantly splash someone else’s misery over social media. Unfortunately these days I think the authorities confuse the professional media with the social media amateurs who answer to no-one and publish without a thought to the consequences.

Yes there is a need to record what is happening on the front line but as a professional and responsible industry we must demonstrate to society that we have changed before we can earn their respect again. Maybe it won’t happen in time to document this crisis but for the future we must somehow regain the trust of the nation.

For the record I shoot little press these days having made the move to PR and corporate work but I have worked most of my life as a newspaper photographer and picture editor.

 


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