I have been shot more times than I have been credited by the BBC
Frontline club founder Vaughan Smith has been in the news a bit of late for a few words he said at the announcement of the Rory Peck Trust Awards last week. The Guardian, Press Gazette and Journalism.co.uk all picked up on the line above. Today The Guardian runs some more in the TV pages from Vaughan himself, although they appear to have got some of the meaning mangled. A slightly less mangled version appears pasted below. Vaughan says he didn’t want to suggest the reporter was rarely involved in any filming nor that the Rory Peck Trust is the solution for freelance journalists,
I have been shot more times than I have been credited by the BBC. Once, during the war in Kosovo, I was shot while working for the BBC. The incident made up a significant part of the correspondent’s news report. In the piece that went out on the BBC news that night the reporter explained how my mobile phone and wallet had stopped the bullet and saved my life. But I wasn’t named. I was referred to as “our cameraman” as if I was merely a damaged bit of equipment.
Many freelance cameramen risk their lives regularly providing footage to TV News organisations, but we are hardly ever credited. Even when we are commissioned to produce a story and are sent to difficult and dangerous places, it is often written into the contract that we will not be credited. To counter this, I was one of several independent video journalists who helped start an independent fringe in television newsgathering in the late 1980s.
We picked up small, consumer cameras because we thought that they would enable us to become independent contributors and enrich journalism in the same way that photojournalists have done since Robert Capa opened his photo agency, Magnum, more than 60 years ago.
It was lonely and dangerous work, statistically more dangerous than any other part of foreign newsgathering. Half of the video journalists that operated out of the agency that I ran through the 1990s, Frontline News, were killed. But even that didn’t earn us the recognition we so badly craved.
We, and other independents like us, would sell footage – and it had to be good to sell – which would get incorporated into news reports and voiced-over by a reporter.
The reporter was sometimes in the country where it was filmed, but rarely near in the incident itself.
Every year there is an award ceremony that recognises freelance cameramen, The Rory Peck Awards, run by the Rory Peck Trust. Rory was one of my original partners in Frontline News. He was killed in Russia in 1993. But while these awards recognise the importance of independent journalism they still don’t challenge the news industry’s practices.
If broadcasters did credit freelance material properly, over time we would begin to be paid a decent wage. We could build our own agencies and take better care of our own safety. It is perhaps unsurprising then that there are few independent TV freelances today in Britain. And the quality of our news suffers. But the audience doesn’t see that.