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Issue Date:- 16 June 2008

BFP Campaign For Photographers...

BOTH amateur and professional photographers in the UK are facing an up-hill struggle when trying to take photographs in public places, after misinformation has been taken as fact by so many organizations and the public. Even the police have been warned by the UK government to stop interfering with photographers.

As more than 200 MPs put their signatures to Austin Mitchell’s Early Day Motion, condemning police harassment of photographers in public places, the Bureau of Freelance Photographers (BFP) launched a major initiative in an attempt to tackle the problem on the ground. As part of its campaign for photographers’ rights, every UK member is being issued with the BFP “Blue Card”.   This card asserts to people the photographers’ rights to take pictures in public places.  "The card is written in simple language; it is short and to the point and has been legally validated. It is small enough to be slipped into a camera bag or pocket. The Bureau feels that members may find it useful to show the card to the particular police officer, security guard or other official.” said the BFP

In the UK, at present, there is no law that stops a photographer or in fact anyone from taking pictures in public places, in the majority of circumstances. Not even the new Anti Terroris legislation stops the use of photography in public places, but misreading and misuse has confused people. Sadly, the misinformation does not stop at that: EU rules and American Laws have again added to the confusion. Add to this, the Children's Act, again being taken out of context by many in authority, and it is no wonder why the public is highly confused. The PCC rulings, about photographers harassing stars and legal cases being successfully tried regarding this, have muddied the waters even further. But even where a photographer has taken photographs and been sued, it has not led to changes in the law. So, it is true to state that no law stops photography in public places. Successful cases to date have centred on harassment.
{Example Ref}

One suggestion by a member of the public to us was that:- “All public events should clearly have banners stating the fact that photographs are being taken and that if the people do not want a photograph taken of them , they should not be there. As signs saying, “You cannot do this or that…” and that you agree to CCTV etc. are all over the place, why not do that as well, to help the public understand more and also to help avoid problems with people who do not wish to be photographed?”   A good suggestion, but why do we have to spell everything out all the time. Common sense dictates you might be photographed at an event!

The loss of such freedoms, to take photographs in public unhampered, would stop photographs at all public events, from carnivals through to street parties and also documentary photography. In recent years, a boom in street photography has taken place and is seen by many as a good thing, and the photographs are becoming a valuable record for historians. Also they are an art form, like Henri Cartier-Bresson’s street photographs, where he took photographs of people, without consent, and used them in his art.  Even photographic work, such as the shots taken by Edward Chambre Hardman and now regarded as very important to the historical records of Liverpool and indeed the UK, would never again be taken, if a such a law, requiring explicit permission for every photograph, had existed.  

One member of Southport Photographic Society, at the Jazz Festival, made these remarks:- "I have been stopped now often and asked why am I taking photographs.   The fun is going out of photography as a hobby.  The implications for loss of photography in public would devastate the freedoms of us all, and people do not realize this. They need to wake up and stop focusing on isolated issues and also realize that people are photographed all the time, without consent, on every street corner of every major city and town. Even in most shops now, as CCTV takes off. So why are people so afraid of a camera within the hands of a photographer?"

We decided to ask the public what they thought about the Blue Card via It was interesting to see the feedback we received.

One well-known chat room poster and owner of Southport chat, Babs, who lives in Southport said:- "So let's get this straight. Anyone can take photos with anyone else in them if they are in a public place? Are there any rules about how they can use them?"

The reply to this is, “Yes”; there are rules as to how they can be used by the media in the UK. For that you should take a look at the Press Complaints Dept. "Code of Practice", which was set down by the NUJ and is used to give legal guidance to the public, media and legal professionals alike. "I have never had any problems taking photos, but I usually wait until there are as few people as possible. I would like to have the right to ask not to be included in a......"

...continued... " in certain circumstances.” said Babs.

EPUK (Editorial Photographers United Kingdom & Ireland) have published a very useful page, about the guidelines, which were first introduced by the Metropolitan Police, in March 2006, following two years of negotiations between the BPPA, the NUJ and the CIJ. These same guidelines were later adopted by all police forces in Britain in April 2007. These guidelines also state, "Members of the media have a duty to take photographs and film incidents and we have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they record. It is a matter for their editors to control what is published or broadcast, not the police. Once images are recorded, we have no power to delete or confiscate them, without a court order, even if we think they contain damaging or useful evidence."

So the "Code of Practice" is key to the understanding of the rules in the UK for dealing with the press. As for the public, the same applies. Interestingly, Nigel Waring from Sydney, Australia commented:- "It is not a simple as that. There have been cases where people have successfully sued someone for taking their picture; it is well established in law that, without the subjects’ consent, it is an assault unless it can be proven, in law, that it is in the public interest. The landmark or test case involved some horses and trainers at Epsom. The media really needs to get its act together and show a bit of respect for the public, we often see someone in the news stating that they do not wish to make a statement but the news media races after them often obstructing and bombarding them with questions when they are trying to get away, they've made it very clear that they do not want to give an interview but the media thugs still harass them; it is not just a few rogue reporters, but the majority of them. The law is very weak and confused on what the media can do and on the protection of people in the public eye, it is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed but the BFP & NUJ taking the law into their own hands will not help. It will be a very difficult situation to resolve, because there are so many conflicting and vested interests."

I do not recall this one, but, from what I have been, told it was not a landmark case that has stopped any type of photography in public. The only incident that the we could find which has hit the papers, is the case brought against Sporting Life, together with Mrs Ramsden and her gambler husband Jack, after their horse Top Cees had won the prestigious Chester Cup by five lengths, at generous of odds of 8-1. The paper, “Sporting Life”, was found to have had falsely claimed that Top Cees had been deliberately held up in his prep race three weeks earlier, so that the odds available at Chester would lengthen.
{Ref.} This is a good example of the confusion we face in the UK. Interestingly, it came via an ex-pat, living in Australia. Also, they are not “taking the law into their own hands”, they are trying to protect the public’s freedom. Most of the media’s rights fall under section 3 of the "Code of Practice" {Ref.}. The fact is that it is not just the media that is being affected by this misunderstanding but also the public. Even to the point where say, in 2007, a couple in Manchester were banned from taking photographs of their baby daughter on a swing, by a park warden, who declared it `inappropriate.' {Ref.} Steve Brook, an off-licence manager from Clarksfield in Oldham told the Manchester Evening News that:- "A man in a high-visibility jacket came over and told us we couldn't take pictures. I asked him why and he said it was illegal to take pictures of children in the park. I explained it was my own daughter but he still said it wasn't allowed."

What the BFP is trying to do is to stop the misinformation and to help people to enjoy photography again, as well as making life easier for photographers and preserve the freedom we have to take photographs.

BFP chief executive John Tracy says:- “With the increasing number of members being stopped by police officers – or more commonly, police community support officers – from legitimately taking pictures, we felt we had to do something. We have written to the police, we have lobbied MPs, but ultimately, whether a photographer is prevented from taking pictures, is down to the individual officer on the ground. We feel that the card, if used with tact and discretion, may have the desired effect of emphasising to an officer the fact that photography in public places is a legitimate and, in 99 cases out of 100, legal activity.”  

The organisation is now asking members to:- “report back on their experiences of using the card – whether positive or negative”.

John Tracy added that:- “The BFP will report on these experiences through the BFP’s /Newsletter /and if the majority of members find that the card does help, all well and good. If, on the other hand, the majority find it doesn’t work, or even exacerbates the situation, we will report that too. But personally, I don’t think the latter will be the case. I think it’s more likely that, in some circumstances, members will find the card helpful and, in other circumstances, they won’t.”

Meanwhile, the BFP campaign continues. We hope to be part of a delegation, being put together by Austin Mitchell, to see Home Office minister, Tony McNulty, to urge that clear instructions be issued:- “to make it clear that there is a right to take photographs in public places.”

Only time will tell if the “Blue Card” will work and if it will have the  desired effect…   As we are continually being told:- ”If you’ve nothing to hide, whyworry?” when it comes t quotes from the public with regards things like ID cards and CCTV, so this indeed so about photography?

Please do continue to post your comments on Southport chat and we will try and point you all in the correct direction to get the information you require. Also, feel free to email your views to

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