Barts Tries Censorship

I never take kindly to being told I can’t take photographs anywhere.¬† I was at the protest outside the Royal Whitechapel Hospital in Whitechapel in a crowd of around a hundred people, probably at least half of whom were using their phones or compact cameras when a security man came up to me and asked “Excuse me, Sir, are you from the press?”

It’s a question that always makes me remember a film showing one of the greatest pioneers of photojournalism, ‘Eisie’, Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995) working on the streets of New York, photographing kids at play, who when asked whether he was a professional replied that no, he was just an amateur*.¬† And of course he was a great amateur in the original sense of the word, a lover of photography. And so too am I. And given the current level of fees the press are willing to pay we are all getting to be amateurs in every sense now.

So it’s always something of a judgement call what to reply to such questions. And there are a few events where I wear my press card visibly, around my neck, but rather more where I keep it in my pocket. Everyone has a right to photograph and I don’t usually want to claim any special privileges.

But it was a polite question, and he showed me his ID card, and when I told him I was a freelance journalist he told me I could not photograph as this was land owned by the Barts Hospital NHS Trust.

I had several problems with that. Firstly it was clear that he was not attempting to stop others around me from taking pictures, so this seemed clearly to be an attack on the freedom of the press to report events, and an attempt at censorship. Secondly, the NHS trust is a public body, paid for out of my taxes as a member of the public and I feel that gives me some rights. But overriding everything was the legitimate public interest in what was happening.

So I made it clear that I intended to continue taking pictures and did so, and the security didn’t bother me any more. It seemed a particularly inept attempt to control media coverage of the event, and one that was aimed at me alone. Among the others recording the event were a couple of professional videographers who were not approached. Or perhaps they just gave up after they found I told them they had to be joking.


Local GP Dr Anna Livingstone,

It wasn’t a hugely photogenic event as you can see at Barts cuts Health Advocacy & Interpreting but over an issue which is of great importance to the local community as well as arising out of wider issues over the future of the NHS across the country. It wasn’t the first time I’d photographed in the grounds of the hospital either, and there had been some rather strange responses from security last October at the protest¬† Scrap Royal London NHS PFI Debt
when police had to persuade them to let the protest happen in the roadway leading to the hospital after it was clear the numbers were creating a severe problem on the Whitechapel Road.


Mark Cubbon, Executive Director of Delivery came to receive the petition

You can see more of the hugely expensive new building, both on the outside and some views from the staff canteen area in Whitechapel – Hospital Views.

* I don’t think the film I used to play to classes about ‘Eisie’ is available on-line, and although some of his best work is on the LIFE site, this seems to be a site which really fails to celebrate the photographers and it is difficult to look at more than odd pieces of work by him. But on YouTube you can watch in four parts a BBC programme Alfred Eisenstaedt Master Photographer from 1983 where he says the same thing at the end of part 3.



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