Click and kiss

September 14, 2010

Good kisses are like good pictures, they come in the most natural way, without words or permission. What would happen if you asked permission for a kiss or a picture? The answer would likely be ‘no’.

On the streets of Australia, stealing a kiss can sometimes be a lot easier than taking a photo.

The nation has an obsession with rules and a fear of media, a very bad combination for press freedom. Warnings are everywhere: “No trespassing, offenders will be prosecuted,” “No entry,” “Private.” Every time you put a camera to your face in a public place, some local official will intervene: “What are you taking pictures of? You can’t take pictures here without permission.”

Even if you are standing on a public street, pointing a camera at a national icon like Bondi Beach or the Sydney Opera House, you can be threatened with a fine if you do not have a permit.

The problem has become so big that about 1,000 photographers recently held a public protest in Sydney against restrictions on taking pictures in public places.

Australia’s crackdown on photography comes partly from a concern for privacy but increasingly it is related to the idea that some public places, such as the Opera House, are intellectual property – and that photographers who seek to profit from them should pay for the privilege.

More and more, photographers are asked to pay a local council or authority for the right to take a picture of a public place.

Photographer Daniel Munoz is seen in Sydney.

News falls outside the scope of “commercial” photography and a Reuters photographer doesn’t need to buy a permit, but local officials don’t understand the difference and will demand a permit anyway. But even if you tried to buy one, the process is ridiculous. By the time you finally get it all sorted out, the news cycle has moved on. The picture isn’t even relevant any more.

Getting permission to shoot pictures can take days, weeks or even months. And the fees charged for a photographic permit are not cheap. To take a picture of Bondi Beach will cost you A$255.

A photographer takes pictures of "The People's Orb", a 20cm (7.9 inches) silver sphere containing 350 gigabyte of multi-media collected around the world to inspire action on climate change in Copenhagen, in Sydney December 2, 2009.   REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

The days of taking news pictures are in serious danger in Australia, not only on its wide streets or sandy beaches but also in the sporting arena.

Sports organizers also try to treat sports events as intellectual copyright, leading several sporting bodies to impose unacceptable terms and conditions in return for media accreditation. A few years ago, journalists boycotted a Cricket Australia test match in a row that finally ended this year, when the sports authorities and the media signed up to the Code of Practice for Sports News Reporting which recognized the role of the media at sports events.

Reuters has a strong code of ethics, and photographers are happy to be bound by them, but Australia’s obsession with rules is starting to look like an attack on free speech.

Like a kiss, some things don’t need regulating.

2 comments

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The government’s eagerness for a new revenue stream is going to hurt them in the long run. When a Reuters photographer, for example, takes a picture on Bondi it has the potential to reach 1 billion people… 1 billion potential tourists. Governmental suppression of what should be a given right amounts to an unnecessary control of the press and limits the ability for the rest of the world to be reminded of Australia.

Posted by KatieHunt-Morr | Report as abusive

Totally over regulated. This is a load of B.S. I could see this happening some time ago. All the public liability crap is out of control in Australia, it might even be worse than the USA. Now that’s something to take notice of Australia. Wake up and relax a little.

Posted by HeathHolden | Report as abusive