Press photographers should consistently be allowed access to government events via the pool photography system rather than relying on photos taken by an official Number 10 photographer, the SoE contends.
There has been ongoing criticism since the appointment of the Prime Minister’s official photographer which came to a head during the Covid-19 crisis when restrictions on press photographers attending government events were heightened for safety reasons.
The debate resurfaced following the return of the Number 10 afternoon press conference on Wednesday when the Prime Minister outlined a “Rule of Six” tightening of lockdown measures to the public.
On this occasion, a pool photographer was invited to attend the important briefing. The Times’ news picture editor Sam Stewart identified the difference in coverage in photos taken by the official government photographer and PA’s Stefan Rousseau.
The difference in coverage we get when @StefanRousseau (a press pool photographer) is allowed to cover the press briefings. I'll let you guess which is his and which is a government handout picture. pic.twitter.com/75vBHbyFF6
— Sam Stewart (@Mr_Sam_Stewart) September 9, 2020
Rousseau’s photograph of the PM (above, right) was subsequently used on the front page of The Times and Daily Telegraph.
Prior to Covid-19, events had been covered by two rota photographers in a pool – with one agency photographer and one national newspaper photographer in attendance. Due to the coronavirus, only one of these pool photographers is generally invited to cover events.
However, the SoE understands that access to such events has not been consistent.
The only photos taken of the first time the Prime Minister was seen wearing a mask were not taken by an agency or newspaper photographer. On the trip to Mr Johnson’s constituency, pool photographers were not given notice of the visit and the only photos available were by Andrew Parsons, who also works for Number 10 as official photographer.
On other occasions, pool photographers may not receive full access to the whole event to which they are invited to cover.
At a trip to Coalville School in Leicestershire last month, the pool photographer was not able to photograph a speech in a school library that the Prime Minister was making to schoolchildren.
Controversy followed the event as it emerged the Prime Minister had given a speech in front of a bookcase display which had been used by a former librarian to send a message to her former employers. The only photographs that emerged from the speech were from Number 10.
The SoE contends that press photographers should receive invitations to attend all events featuring the Prime Minister and government ministers as the presence of a press photographer ensures the whole of the event is reported on.
In June, the Society of Editors voiced concerns that the use of official photographers could lead to images being sanitised or censored, or even give the impression this might be the case.
Speaking at the time, Ian Murray, executive director of the SoE said, “We will be seeking assurances from Number 10 that the restrictions will be relaxed as soon as possible, that wherever possible press photographers will be used rather than the government’s own staff, and that restrictions will be completely removed when it is safe to do so.
“While it is true in some cases a pool press photographer has been permitted, this does restrict the ability of news agencies in particular as well as the press as a whole to provide a variety of perspectives from an event. This is important to ensure a vibrant plurality of our media.”
The Society is disappointed not to have received any assurances from Number 10 regards this but understands that Number 10 Press Office has been engaging with news agencies to resolve the matter.
Picture credit: Stefan Rousseau / PA Media