The SoE’s concerns come as Number 10 continues to regularly use its own photographers to cover events during the Covid-19 emergency while barring press photographers.
In recent weeks visits by ministers to a number of events have seen press photographers excluded with the only still photographs made available coming from government approved images taken by Number 10’s own team.
The practice, introduced by Number 10 as part of measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus, has been particularly bad for agencies, the SoE has been informed.
SoE executive director Ian Murray commented: “A picture is worth a thousand words, the saying goes, and it is therefore important that images of our elected leaders produced during this time of crisis are not sanitised or censored or even give the impression this might be the case.
“While it is understandable measures have been put in place to protect everyone attending press events involving the Prime Minister or his senior Cabinet colleagues, these should be reviewed on a daily basis and whenever possible press photographers should be used instead of Number 10’s own people.
The SoE pointed out that it was only after there were complaints that earlier in the year Number 10 was exclusively using its own film crew to cover events such as the Prime Minister making a Brexit statement at the end of January, that it was agreed broadcast media could provide cover on a pool basis.
“While it is true in some cases a pool press photographer has been permitted, this does restrict the ability of news agencies in particular as well as the press as a whole to provide a variety of perspectives from an event. This is important to ensure a vibrant plurality of our media,” added Murray.
“We will be seeking assurances from Number 10 that the restrictions will be relaxed as soon as possible, that wherever possible press photographers will be used rather than the government’s own staff, and that restrictions will be completely removed when it is safe to do so.”
Recently Health Secretary Matt Hancock visited a hospital to give blood where only the Number 10 photographer was present.
Last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel visited police horses that had taken part in the weekend’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations and only a Number 10 photographer was present.
Last Wednesday Chancellor Rishi Sunak visited a John Lewis store but only the Treasury photographer was present, however there was a Sky News team in attendance.
One agency photographer, who wished to remain anonymous, told the SoE: “My concerns are that we have been denied access to the Number 10 daily press conference since March on the grounds of health and safety but with a TV crew going in every day. I don’t believe this can be any longer used as an excuse.
“The resulting coverage from the Number 10 photographer is therefore very limited and controlled and vetted. A couple of weeks ago, Boris waved his glasses around during the conference suggesting his eyesight might have worsened since suffering Covid-19 yet there are no pictures of this from Number 10.
“Matt Hancock held his head in his hands for a period during one press conference, but again there are no pictures from Number 10. These are all things newspapers should be concerned about.
“My view would be that if it’s a space issue then the pool should be the priority not the internal Number 10 photographer.
“When the Prime Minister visited a shopping centre last week access was given to one newspaper staff member but no wire agency photographer which still seems very restrictive given the venue was the largest shopping mall in Europe!
“Sadly, many if not all of the daily newspapers will use these government issued handout pictures making it even more difficult for the news wire agencies such as PA, Reuters, AP and AFP to gain access in the future.”