The Seating Plan

On Tuesday of this week I was at The Leveson Inquiry. Not outside behind the barriers. Inside the building inside the courtroom, suited and booted and even wearing a tie. More astonishingly so was The BPPA Chairman Jeff Moore (although he refused to shave). The most important BPPA person was Neil Turner, fellow Vice-Chairman and the man in the spotlight. The man who was going into battle with some of the finest minds in the British Legal system.

Neil had prepared the initial 18 page submission so knew that inside out but as we spent most of the day before preparing we had no idea what route the questioning might take. Would they demand to know what our definition of ‘private and public’ was ? Would they hold up photographs of Photographers in bun-fights and demand their names ? Would they demand the names of dodgy picture desks and editors ?

We had dinner whilst going over and over what might happen, Jeff said after-wards that it felt like The Last Supper.

To put it bluntly we were bordering on terrified, well I was , and Jeff admitted to being even worse. Some mention of his flapping posterior was in fact made.

We met beforehand and had a last minute chat and a hearty condemned man’s last meal, I went for the Bacon sandwich. We headed off to the Court where we were met by a baying pen full of paparazzi. Oh no hang on a minute that’s what a TV journalist would say. What really happened was that some of our colleagues greeted us with a wave and got us to pose. One of the pictures even made it onto The Metro website. It was a little strange being on the ‘wrong’ side of the pen but it didn’t last long. Incidently, the pen itself was another of our little victories. The pen that Pete Macdiarmid and myself with the help of High Court regular Nick Razzel organised at the eleventh hour.

The  Inquiry kicked off on Monday 21st November with Hugh Grant and the parents of Milly Dowler. There was no pen organised. It was going to be chaos. Imagine the footage our TV colleagues would have lapped up of the witnesses fighting their way through the throng of fifty or more Photographers and cameramen. It would have been very very ugly. Luckily a friendly head of security agreed with us that an organised pen would indeed be a much better idea. If you don’t ask you don’t get. Disaster averted on Friday evening 18th November.

That first week we were torn to shreds by witness after witness and TV loved it. We were getting a kicking and we decided we had to fight back. That’s when we decided it was time that Leveson listened to our side of the story. Things were going to change for us whether we liked it or not. We had to be listened to. We had to have a seat at the table when the changes were being made.

Months later and there we were being shown around the court. We were told we were third up, so sat in from the start. It was running over and it was hot, we were having difficulty staying awake but it did give us the chance to acclimatise. We never made it on before lunch, but we were told we’d be on straight after. It was starting to get tense again. When we went in, The court rose and Neil went to the stand to take his oath. This was it.

Neil was questioned on our submission by Carine Patry Hoskins, Counsel to The Inquiry. Contrary to what we expected, she explained before we went in what she would be asking us about and pretty much stuck to it.

It was tremendously difficult to stop myself from sticking my hand up and chipping in, I wonder what my fate would’ve been had I done so, maybe a night in the cells. We followed every word, muttering between ourselves about answers and generally cheering Neil on under our breath. I sat through most of it with my head down in my hands concentrating. It was going well but at any moment the counsel could turn on us. There were a few points that were at the forefront of my mind. Points that could cause us trouble. I was worried we’d be accused of having members that were involved in some of the worst examples that some of the previous witnesses had mentioned. My answer was , why would we have asked to come here if we thought our members were involved. I was worried they’d ask us what we thought of Paul Dacre The Daily Mail’s Editor in Chief’s ideas about changing the press card system. We hadn’t had the chance to really tackle this because we’d been in prep’ meetings the day before when he was giving evidence. We are totally behind the United Kingdom Press Card Authority, but we had to make sure we didn’t alienate a man who has a lot of clout in our industry. We had to make sure we didn’t appear to think his ideas were rubbish, even if we did. The UKPCA already does most of what he was asking a press card authority to do. We had to make sure we were not led down the road of slagging him off. We were there to make friends and get a seat at the table, not make enemies. I was worried how they would react to our criticism about TV getting access to events like (and including) the Leveson Inquiry whilst Stills are left literally out in the cold. This was raised but I think they felt is was a fair point. They certainly failed to pursue the negative side of the suggestion . My greatest fear was the comment in our submission about ” People involved in news stories not having the sense to stop and talk for two minutes” . To be honest I’d forgotten about until it came up. Shit I thought, that really makes us sound like we think people should do what we want or face the consequences. Neil played a blinder. He said it was all about changing the public’s attitude to it..Brilliant and true. Why shouldn’t someone stop and talk . Why should they run away. All we want is a photograph not their soul.

All of a sudden it ended. Lord Leveson thanked us at the start and at the end he said (paraphrasing) The problem is not with professional photographers and journalists (though he should have said reporters.We are journalists) but Professional Photographers and Journalists are needed for the solution.

We got our seat at the table .

About eddiemulh

News Photographer for The Daily Telegraph and former Vice Chairman of The British Press Photographer's Association.
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