The Ruby sex gate, my cell phone and Massoud

January 21, 2013

Milan, Italy

By Alessandro Garofalo

“Do you know how Ahamad Massoud died?”

It’s not a quiz but a question addressed to us a few days ago by an employee from the secretary of the Public Prosecutor’s office when we asked why photographers were not allowed to bring photographic equipment into the court during the trials involving the former dancer Maroc, Karima El Mahroug, better knew as Ruby Heartstealer, in the sexgate scandal with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, accused of inciting the prostitution of a minor and abuse of power.

For a long time here in Milan we used to wait for Berlusconi and various protagonists of his different trials outside the courthouse because a measure prohibits filming in the courtroom for safety reasons.

But as we know, there is always someone who feels smart, especially when we talk about Italy – business is business. The channel networks want the scoop to broadcast in the news and the newspapers want to publish pictures on their front page. So, disregarding the bans, some editors and colleagues started to shoot video and take pictures with mobile phones, regardless of quality.

It is normal that a trial involving a high position of government like the Italian premier would generate a lot of curiosity, especially when people involved in the case range between seventy-year-olds and minors.

But we are not tourist photographers. We are professionals – the best until proven otherwise – and we do not care to be smart. If there is an order that prohibits filming, we respect it. Despite colleagues doing so and although no employee of the courthouse has ever prevented filming with mobile phones – remember, we are in Italy.

Here, indeed.

The prosecutor’s office has amended the decree granting the opportunity for reporters to document Rubygate using smartphones. Then was my time, after years of work with cameras on my neck, I took a day of vacation and went out equipped with just two smartphones.

But why can we use smartphones and not cameras and camcorders? Because Ahmad Massoud, the Afghan rebel leader, was killed with a camcorder full of explosives, that’s why.

It doesn’t matter that Massoud was killed by two fake journalists in the middle of the Afghan mountains and it doesn’t matter that before photographers enter into the courthouse they must go through security checks with scanners and metal detectors, while lawyers, bailiffs and underlings enter without any inspections.

Forget the zoom. Try to stay in the witness’ arms. The day was grey, the courtroom shadowed. Every attempt to get a good picture was a bet. Point, wait, and touch, most of the time the picture was not what you thought – blurred, dark, out of focus and grainy.

Every picture was a stab to the heart and one to the ego. Behind me there was a crowd holding smart phones and tablets. If it were not for the absurd decree and exploitation of Massoud’s killing, it would be a comedy. Years spent looking for the best picture, using the best camera, always trying hard, even though the assignment was trivial, made adjusting to a point and shoot 5 mega pixel camera difficult.

Finally, the judges rejected the Berlusconi lawyers request to suspend the trial.

Although I do understand and agree with the news’ needs and although sometimes a bath of humbleness can be helpful, I hope this remains my only experience as a tourist photographer covering an assignment for Reuters.

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