Press photographers are being assaulted and face threats of violence as they continue to work during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.
Some have been spat at and even kicked by members of the public.
The British Press Photographers’ Association has written an open letter pleading for people to understand the “vital role” their members are playing in the fight against the pandemic.
Journalists, including press photographers, are classed as key workers by the Government if they are reporting on issues relating to coronavirus.
BPPA chairman Lindsey Parnaby told Press Gazette he has spoken to 15 photographers around the UK, including in Brighton, London, the Midlands, Liverpool, Manchester and Scotland, and said 99 per cent of them had been victims of abuse in person or online.
One photographer in Nottingham said he had been spat at twice, while Parnaby himself was kicked by a worker leaving a steelworks in Lincolnshire. He was there on a job following rumours that coronavirus testing was taking place at the site.
“I was more annoyed than anything,” Parnaby said. “When you work in the media for 30 years you get called names at certain times, but being physically assaulted is a different thing.”
On a separate occasion in Leeds Parnaby said he was threatened after taking photos from behind of a group of workmen sitting 2m apart while social distancing on their lunchbreak in a city centre park.
He said one of the men turned around, spotted him and ran over, shouting: “What would you do if I smashed your camera and gave you a punch in the face?”
Parnaby also shared the experience of a staff photographer for PA who was surrounded in Victoria Park, east London, by a woman who shouted that because he was using a long lens he was distorting the truth.
The woman encouraged ten others to join her and the incident was only broken up when two park wardens arrived and managed to defuse the situation.
Parnaby said the photographer had felt “very threatened” and was “really fearful for his own safety”.
A number of photographers have told Parnaby that abuse towards them was driven by their use of long lenses, including two incidents involving cyclists, after a number of stories pictured groups appearing close together in London’s parks.
The BPPA’s open letter addresses the “misconception” that long telephoto lenses “in some way give a distorted and more crowded view of a scene”, calling it “as bizarre as it is ill-informed”.
Another PA photographer has received threats online. It is understood threats on the street are also being faced by TV crews.
“We’re people the same as everybody else and it’s frightening,” Parnaby said. “We’re working under very challenging circumstances… we’ve all got families and this makes it all the more difficult.”
Parnaby pointed to recent research showing the public is increasingly turning to the news media for coronavirus news and information. “They are attacking the people who are supplying them the news,” he said. “It’s absurd.”
None of the photographers he had spoken to had contacted the police because they “don’t want to trouble” them at the moment, Parnaby said.
“They are going to be needed elsewhere on very important jobs so there is a reluctance – but at the same time if something happens, if it isn’t made public it will escalate and it will get to the point where someone will get really badly injured at some point.”
The BPPA has urged its members to contact the police when a criminal offence is committed.
The BPPA’s research was initially intended to get feedback on how the police and other authorities were treating photographers going about their work during the lockdown.
“I thought it would be the authorities that were giving the most amount of trouble but they have been absolutely fantastic… the biggest surprise to me was the response from the public.
“If they start to lift restrictions I think people might calm down a little bit, but they certainly don’t need to be attacking the people who are bringing them the news they are reading when they’re sat at home.”
Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire