This week I lost a brother. I had never met him, never compared stories or discussed our vast amounts of kit but I feel the pain of his needless death.
I am talking about the death of Lekso Lashkarava. Lekso suffered severe facial injuries after being assaulted whilst filming a Pride march in Tbilisi, Georgia. He was discharged from hospital but his body was found at his home a few days later. He'd died as a result of his injuries. He was one of more than 50 journalists attacked on that day.
We all know that working in news is often challenging with high emotions involved, these issues are nothing new.
Like many I've been on the 'News and Location Safety' training course at the BBC. The course does briefly cover risk assessing in environments like riots, protests or crowds BUT this does not seem to change the expectations of the Editors in terms of the shots they want and more importantly freelancers like me seem to be called to cover these events when the staff camera operator says no. We are the ones with the least amount of support and backing!
I refused to cover the England final and semi final. Recently I have heard so many freelance operators who had been physically assaulted or their kit damaged so I took the tough decision to fill my time with corporate work instead.
I turned away maybe 5 or 6 shifts. I wasn't that worried for my safety but more the equipment damage.
Unlike staff Camera Operator's we have to pay to replace any damaged kit. The downtime costs us money as well.
A freelance cameraman friend was covering the semi final and an England fan tried to grab his camera from him.
He had asked the broadcaster several times for a security presence and they decided not to supply one. It left him feeling vulnerable. Should he have refused the shift?
Cameraman Richard Perry told me his viewfinder was broken at the Wembley EURO final last week by an England fan.
He also sent me the image below. This was taken when he was attacked by Tommy Robinson supporters during a live hit into the BBC's News at One. The idiot waving the light stand narrowly missed his face.
Richard tells me "In the past few years I’ve noticed an increase in the levels of aggression directed towards my colleagues and I as we go about our in normal, everyday work. As a result I no longer wear my press pass or company ID as the latter, especially, attracts abuse and threats. I’ve been targeted and attacked by Far Right protesters when they realised who I was working for. This was during a lunchtime 'live' outside the House of Commons. In these circumstances I’m not mentally prepared for the abuse and it’s becoming very annoying."
Another friend, who works in news recently had a man walk up to her, inches from her face, and in a busy room and start to take out his penis. He was very aggressive and she shouted at him to stop. I know it's left her very upset and not wanting to cover stories like that.
Another Cameraman shares with me"We were filming fans at a public screening of England’s World Cup 2018 match against Croatia, providing a live shot for a network broadcaster’s coverage. The atmosphere at previous screenings there had been good, but as soon as England were knocked out one fan was right in our faces, screaming “Don’t fucking film it” and “You only want to film people’s misery”. He grabbed a photographer’s stepladder and brandished it at us. My reporter tried to distract him. Even when event security guards surrounded him, he was protesting that we shouldn’t be allowed to film. Nobody was hurt and this was a minor event by comparison with others, but it shows the value of having someone watching out for you." You can see what he captured above.
I was recently delivering a live for BBC Breakfast on a housing estate in London, football related, and moments before the live a fight broke out which not only forced us to not broadcast but also potentially could have put us both at risk as things were being thrown. We pulled back to my van but I feel that the camera and the fact we were there may have been the reason the fight started.
Does working for a particular broadcaster increase your risk level?
Sky News Cameraman Steve Cor feels working for the BBC brings a much higher risk of abuse "I think it’s a BBC problem. I've not had any trouble being with Sky. The Anti-vax lot asked if I was BBC, when I said no Sky News they were fine. I saw a Newsnight reporter getting chased into Downing Street, he was wearing his BBC pass! I started my career at the BBC many years ago but I am so glad I am at Sky. Are BBC news management aware the hate which had been caused by them to the public due to the Alex Belfield, Saville and Diana incidents? Local BBC radio reporters in the regions don’t even say BBC now when they are out reporting. This is not BBC bashing it’s the truth..."
When shooting news I mainly work for the BBC and recently on a few protest style jobs I have hidden my BBC pass, only showing it to Police to get behind a cordon. I am very proud to work for the BBC and personally I don't generally have any issue with their political angle but I am starting to feel the public anger towards them.
What does decent security cost a broadcaster?
I've spoken to one of the leading industry providers of broadcast security, Chiron Resources (Operations) Ltd. say demand is growing for their service.
"Different providers charge different rates (and CPOs - all freelancers - charge different rates). The media should currently expect to pay about £300 a day - but I know one of our competitors charges £540 a day….We are probably low (our rate has not changed in 21 years)."
"Demand for UK back-watchers is slowing growing - in 2004/5 the media averaged about 12 jobs a month - between 2010-2015 it averaged about 45 days a month (other than in 2011 when we put out 250 CPOs in one week during the riots) - over the last 5 years it has grown to about 75 jobs a month. This means that we usually do between zero and 10 jobs a day. At that level we can have a quick reaction (yesterday got a call from BBC breakfast at 06:15 asking for a back-watcher asp in London and got someone there within an hour - at the Bristol riot we managed to get 2 people with crews in 30 min - quicker that getting an ambulance to an emergency!) "
Broadcasters are clearly using the services but still more can be done I feel and especially at a more regional level.
So what's the answer?
Yes we can try and film riots from balconies but you can't record vox pops with football fans on a long lens.
TV companies will not supply security for all the jobs with medium to high risk so it's up to us to self regulate these types of jobs until things change.
If in doubt say no and live to shoot another day...
Thanks to all the contributors above.