Snappers win their battle at Stop the War

QUICK action by NUJ photographers forced the Stop The War Coalition (STWC) to retreat from its insistence that journalists pay the £25 price of admission for "organisations" to cover their International Peace Conference on 14 December,

In the weeks leading up to the 14 December Peace Conference, it became clear that journalists - including freelances - would be charged to attend, even if they were attending to photograph or write up the conference as part of their job. The £25 rate was for "organisations" (freelancers were regarded as an "organisation"), while individuals going as delegates were charged £10.  

West of Scotland Freelance Branch Secretary Andy Wylie put out the word on the NUJphoto e{mail list, and very quickly the photographers on the list organised and "collectively said no". Photographers threatened to hold a picket outside the STWC conference venue, the Royal Horticultural Society Hall. Molly asked the NUJ to boycott STWC, and to call on other unions to withhold funding.

The day before the conference, NUJ Freelance Organiser John Toner made several calls to the STWC, to be told that they were sticking to their £25 for journos policy. Then NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear went to STWC's office in person and spoke to STWC Convenor Lindsey German. At the eleventh hour STWC agreed that anyone with a press card could get into the conference for free, although STWC said it may have to exclude people if there wasn't enough room.

Over 1200 people attended the conference. All journalists who turned up were admitted free, and there were good press facilities and good lighting for photography. It was an event worth covering, with Iraqi speakers from the Women's Will Organisation and the Oil Workers' Union. The conference also heard from US peace activist Cindy Sheehan and from those working to secure the release of Norman Kember, a UK peace activist kidnapped in Iraq.

STWC's demand that journalists pay (extra) to cover their event is puzzling, given the fact that there is sympathy for their cause among NUJ members. The trade union movement has close links with STWC. While some went to document or photograph the conference, other journalists went as conference delegates representing their NUJ branch - for which they only had to pay a tenner instead of the £25  "organisations rate". Looking at STWC's report of the conference on their own website, the Freelance couldn't find any mention of the NUJ in the list of union delegations attending.

The London Freelance Branch is writing to STWC about the issues raised, and to offer them a (free) course in media relations. It is universally acknowledged that charging journalists to cover events is bad practice and bad journalism. There have been cases where stadium-sized charity gigs have asked journalists covering the gig to donate a fiver - a donation much lower than the ticket price for punters. Molly Cooper doesn't feel that it was misunderstanding on STWC's part that led them to pass the hat round the press people. She points to a recent conference of the Respect coalition - intimately linked to STWC - where the press were asked for the full £25 "organisations" fee to attend.

Molly Cooper feels that "quick action by NUJ members forced them (STWC) to back down." But she points out that photographers "still think there's an issue to sort out" between STWC and journalists. There were complaints of excessive force being used by STWC stewards dealing with journalists at their Stop Bush demo in November 2004. Jeremy Dear then met with STWC's Chris Nineham at Headland House, after which STWC agreed they would let journalists take pictures at the front of their marches.

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