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A tale from Manchester Pride

A tale from Manchester Pride, a few years in the making. Please bear with me until the end.

In 2015 I was photographing the Manchester Pride parade when the Grand Marshal – Sir Ian McKellen – stopped on Peter Street and lit a cigarette. Sir Ian is famously photographed smoking and makes no secret of the fact, so this wasn’t unusual and he did so in front of a crowd of thousands. I photographed this and a row ensued in which the Manchester Pride Chief Executive and the Public Relations team immediately attempted to block me and have me removed from the event. The dispute continued throughout the Pride weekend, with them refusing me entry to the closed off areas of Pride unless I told them that the photos had been deleted. I refused. When I arrived to photograph the Candlelit Vigil – a public remembrance of those killed and affected by HIV at the weekend’s close – they tried, unsuccessfully, to have me ejected, still upset that I had photographed a man smoking a cigarette.

The following year was sweetness and light, I explained why I felt they had been out of order and we moved on.

This year a lesbian gender ideology protest attempted to hijack the front of the parade. Several in the crowd remonstrated with the protesters. This was a political action and a live story of direct relevance to those for whom Pride is important. It was newsworthy and I photographed it along with the rest of the parade. Once again the Pride PR team attempted to obstruct me as I worked. A PR stood in front of me as I took photos of the protesters on Peter Street, told me not to take photos and that it wasn’t the message they wanted to “put out”. I am not their PR photographer. Nor are the 1000s of other onlookers who saw the protest, took their own photos and shouted down the protesters. I warned the PR off from obstructing me and carried on. Nothing further was said.

Separately, in the days leading up to this year’s Pride, media were advised by the PR team that they would not be granting photojournalists or TV news crews access to cover the headline music act, due to take place in a separate location at Mayfield Depot. This was already newsworthy as, for the first time, the bigger music performances attached to the “Pride Big Weekend” tickets were taking place at a venue outside of the Gay Village. Ticket prices had been increased this year and so this highly unusual coverage restriction took on extra significance, especially given the headline act’s (Ariana Grande) unique connection with Manchester, her large following amongst Pride attendees and the reported £1/4 million appearance fee Manchester Pride were paying. Many tickets were sold to fans specifically wanting to see Grande. It’s now known that these tickets were oversold, and that many didn’t get to see the performances for which they had paid. To journalists, refusing access to cover such a significant and rich event in the city’s history seemed like an appalling decision and, having exhausted efforts to overturn this, I sought out a less than ideal alternative, and shot Grande’s performance from a public location a considerable distance away. Manchester Pride’s own PR photographer was also barred from photographing the act but Grande’s team had promised to release photos from the event to media, so that immediate coverage was available. These would obviously be PR photos but would have been of some use. Unfortunately only one photo was approved for release by Grande and it came far too late to meet any deadlines, so my inadequate work received more coverage than it deserved.

As in previous years, on Monday night I covered the Candlelit Vigil. It’s a sombre, joyful, tragic memorial and celebration of the lives of those killed and affected by HIV. I count myself amongst their number but have always made a point of covering this element of Pride with exactly the same care and professionalism as I put towards the parade, the music acts and the crowds in the village. I was therefore stunned when the same member of Manchester Pride’s PR team approached me as I was setting up and told me that they didn’t want me to be there, that she wanted me to leave. She said that I was not on their side, that in photographing the protest I was lending their cause support and that Manchester Pride were upset that I had photographed Ariana Grande, when they hadn’t facilitated this.

Several points of fact:
1) Manchester Pride and their PR operatives have absolutely no right or power to influence or prevent coverage of any public event or anything viewable to the public.
2) My coverage of the parade and Ariana Grande were from public spaces which required no permission to access and both were plainly viewable to anyone. Both were in the public interest.
3) To fail to report on such significant events as part of my wider Pride coverage would have been an odd dereliction of my responsibility to cover all elements of the event and would have stood out by its omission.
4) My job as a journalist is not to provide PR in exchange for a wristband, it is to cover events as thoroughly as possible, regardless of how they turn out. This includes occurrences that might not suit an event’s organisers or be palatable to some members of the public. If a thing happens it’s my job to document that thing, not to judge whether it’s worth coverage based on the values and ideals of a specific group.
6) It is my and then an editor’s decision to decide when to take and then publish a photograph. No one else gets to enforce who or what I am or am not permitted to photograph in public.

Here’s the punchline.

To be told by Manchester Pride’s public relations team that I, a gay, HIV+ man, am not welcome to cover the Candlelit Vigil because they were upset that I had and was doing my job effectively, that I was not – in their words – “on our side”, that I needed to leave the vigil and that I would not be granted accreditation for Pride in future years, was truly shocking and extremely hurtful. Not only was this neither the time nor the place, it was also an outrageous attempt to reach into matters that are none of Manchester Pride’s affair. The PR explicitly told me that, in giving me access to the closed off elements of the event, they felt entitled to tell me where I could go and what I could and could not do outside of that event.

This leaves me with a question relevant to the community whom Pride is meant to serve: in whose interests are Manchester Pride and their PR team at Down at the Social running and censoring events, if not the community itself?

This also exposes the ever present danger of the sort of expectations PR operatives have of journalists, in exchange for access.

Often this pact isn’t a good one for journalists and, crucially, our audience.

LINKS:
Photos from Pride Parade: https://joelgoodman.photoshelter.com/gallery/24-08-2019-Manchester-Pride-parade/G0000E3Ic.6DAvSg/C0000xD53FIDUeJ0

Photos from Pride on Sunday, including Ariana Grande performance: https://joelgoodman.photoshelter.com/gallery/26-08-2019-Manchester-Pride/G0000z2vmqaIF598/C0000xD53FIDUeJ0

Photos from Candlelit Vigil for HIV: https://joelgoodman.photoshelter.com/gallery/26-08-2019-Candlelit-Vigil-for-HIV/G0000D8hGkqFjP.Y/C0000xD53FIDUeJ0

The approved photo released through Getty after Ariana Grande performance: https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/ariana-grande-performs-on-stage-during-manchester-pride-news-photo/1170259401?adppopup=true