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Photographers protest against TUC flash ban

24 May 2006 - EPUK

The TUC has banned flash photography at its TUC Disability Conference this week and branded it as a risk to epileptic members , contrary to its own guidelines as well as the advice of the British Epilepsy Association.

NUJ photographers this morning demonstrated outside the conference at Congress House as they were effectively not allowed to cover the event properly for union journals and other interested publications.

The dispute over the use of flash dates back several years to public service union Unison – which does not allow flash at its own conferences – calling for an end to its use at the TUC.

It seemed the situation had been resolved when a compromise was reached last year which stated that ‘the TUC has been advised by the British Epilepsy Association that the use of low level flashes will not cause seizures’ and that ‘all reasonable practical steps will be taken (in seating delegates for example) to avoid possible discomfort…’

A NUJ delegate attending the TUC Disabilities Conference joins the demonstration ouside the event Photograph by Andrew Wiard/reportphotos.com

Indeed the TUC official policy on flash photography states:

The TUC will take all reasonable steps to ensure that the access needs of disabled delegates to its conferences and other events are met.

With regard to the use of flash photography the TUC has been advised by the British Epilepsy Association that the use of low level flashes will not cause seizures. Where delegates inform the TUC that they have conditions that may be affected by the use of flash photography all reasonable practical steps will be taken (in seating delegates for example) to avoid possible discomfort and photographers will be required not to take photographs of such delegates at the rostrum if they make such a request.

However, it is not our intention to prevent photographers from working at our events as the photographs help to publicise trade union causes and campaigns, particularly at our equality events”.

But, to the frustration of photographers, Unison has continued to ban flash photography at its own conferences and has ignored several formal requests by the NUJ to explain the union’s outstanding issues with flash.

Now NUJ photographers have learnt that flash is banned at this year’s Disability Conference and strongly believe Unison is behind the change.

In his letter to TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: “After the TUC General Council agreed a policy on flash photography last year, I am astonished to read in the minutes of the Disability Committee that [it] is to be banned at the Disability Conference.

“The TUC General Council’s carefully worked out policy is also being treated with contempt. At a recent meeting we said we would provide guidance to photographers to help overcome this problem. That agreement has now been torn up too.”

He added: “We have total respect for the rights and concerns of disabled people but we have no reason to believe there is any danger and, since Unison ignore our requests that they supply evidence to the contrary, that remains our position.

“NUJ photographers are rightly outraged that they are not being allowed to do their job properly and they refuse to supply sub-standard, badly-lit photographs to their clients.”

NUJ Disabled Members Council Chair Stephen Brooke MBE said: “I totally support our union’s entirely reasonable line on this issue.

“I am surprised and dismayed that the TUC Disability Committee allows such discriminatory actions.”

Photographer and EPUK member Andrew Wiard said:” My flashgun has never triggered an epileptic fit, and never will. This nonsense has got to stop now. We photographers have rights too.”

Connect – the union for professionals in communications, have added their support to the NUJ’s protest, expressing the concern that the ban is effectively making minority groups invisible.

NUJ members attended the demonstration to support the photographers and make a firm stand for their right to cover trade union conferences in a professional and safe manner.

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I am a phographer and a clinical physiologist.In my capacity as the latter it is my job to elicit epileptic activity from those suseptible to seizures using amongst other things a flashing strobe light placed immediately in front of the face.Photosensitive epilepsy really isn’t as common as people think,very few people with epilepsy have sizures triggered by flashing lights, flashes have to be repetative optimally at 18 flashes per second. I cannot recall in any of the literature cases of photographic flash lights causing seizures.

Comment 1: sully, 27 August 2006, 10:53 pm

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